'I list five things every day I’m grateful for' - Leeds charity volunteer shares her mental health struggles during Covid-19 pandemic

A Leeds charity volunteer who has struggled with her mental health throughout her life has spoken of feeling "trapped" by the pandemic and shared her concerns for others facing similar battles as the nation enters its third lockdown.

Saturday, 9th January 2021, 11:45 am
Updated Monday, 11th January 2021, 3:33 pm

Vicky Rai, 40, of Pudsey, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1999 and over the years has been so poorly she has attempted suicide twice.

Recently she says she has been experiencing anxiety and depressive symptoms but thanks to support from local charities, and a variety of self-help strategies, she is learning to cope with the current situation - but spoke of her fears for others who are struggling.

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Vicky Rai, 40, of Pudsey, who is sharing her mental health struggles to help others. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“I’m a fighter but everyone’s coping levels are different,” she said.

“I feel trapped but I think a lot of people feel trapped. It just feels like nothing is changing. I think a lot of people are feeling like that. That the world is in crisis right now.”

Vicky was in Africa, volunteering with orphans in Zambia, at the beginning of the pandemic but returned to the UK in May to be closer to family.

And, like many, having to socially-distance from her family on her return - especially given the hardship she had witnessed while in Africa - was incredibly upsetting.

“When I came back I just wanted to hug them but I had to keep them safe. That was hard. I wanted the hug, I wanted the comfort,” she said.

The decision to leave Zambia, where she feels "at home”, was a tough one and one she has been struggling to come to terms with since - combined with feeling alone back home in Pudsey.

“When I back I just crashed. There was no-one calling. I was just depressed. I was alone in the flat and I wanted to be back in Africa with the kids.”

But in a bid to boost her mental health she has taken up online meditation, follows a vegan diet and also “practices gratitude”.

She explains: “I list five things every single day that I’m grateful for. Every day. Even if I feel like I want to die. Five things that I have done that are beneficial to me.”

Vicky also credits several charities as having been - and continuing to be - a huge support to her, such as Touchstone in Leeds, who she also does volunteer work for, Mind and the Samaritans - all charities she would urge people to reach out to if they need help.

She said: “Touchstone helped me realise that it’s an illness of the mind. That there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

“Mind is also fantastic as it has courses if your confidence is low or if struggling with anxiety. They’re just amazing. “

She added: “The Samaritans have saved me many times. They’re absolutely fantastic. I owe my life to the Samaritans.”

For now, Vicky said she is concentrating on her charity work, fundraising, her meditation and raising awareness of mental health - and is hopeful of being able to return to Africa at the end of March.

However she urged people to follow the lockdown rules in order to see an end to the pandemic.

She said: “We can’t get out of lockdown until this thing is sorted. People have to stick to the rules because it’s affecting everyone.

“We’ve all had enough. We all want to be out. I don’t want to be in isolation in this flat anymore.”

Important websites and numbers:

West Yorkshire mental health 24/7 support line, provides confidential advice - 0800 183 0558

Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service, for anyone aged 17 or over: www.leedsmentalwellbeingservice.co.uk

For children and young people: www.mindmate.org.uk

For those struggling with alcohol and drug use: www.forwardleeds.co.uk

Leeds Mind: 0113 305 5800, or email [email protected]

For people in crisis:

Connect, open 6pm-2am on 0808 8001212 or online chat at www.lslcs.or.yk

For people in crisis: Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s 24/7 single point of access on Freephone 0800 183 1485.

Samaritans Leeds - 116 123 or 0113 245 6789

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