PEOPLE with mental health issues found the courage to share their stories with members of the public at an event in Chard.

Members and volunteers of the WATCH Project took part in the ‘Breakdown to Breakthrough’ event at Chard Young People’s Centre in Essex Close.

The session was designed to highlight and breakdown the stigma of mental health, not least through performances by four sufferers who had just 35 minutes to rehearse.

Ian acted out the harrowing story of how he was bullied at work after colleagues noticed selfharm scars on his arms.

He said: “They left out a hangman’s noose, two razor blades, two packets of paracetamol and the Yellow Pages open on the page of the Samaritans in case I didn’t go through with it.”

Ian said he put up with it for a time because he needed the money but is now doing much better after attending sessions run by the WATCH Project.

Debs read poetry about her experience of living with the rare Williams Syndrome and Peter told the room about having paranoid schizophrenia.

He said: “I have learned that there can be advantages and disadvantages to the soul.”

Lastly, Shelley said a few words about myotonic muscular dystrophy – the deteriorating musclewasting disease which had already claimed the lives of her mother and sister.

She said: “I never know what’s going to happen from one day to the next, so I have to live day by day – there’s nothing else you can do.”

Project manager Julie Matthews said: “We are proud of our members for not feeling ashamed and having the courage to speak to the public today. It was important to have that one to one contact so they could tell their stories.

“Speaking out helps to break down barriers which make people so isolated.

“The WATCH Project is about speaking out about the stigma of having mental health issues but also about helping anyone who feels lonely and isolated – they don’t have to have mental health problems.”

Cllr Jill Shortland, who represents Chard south on Somerset County Council, said: “They are an amazing group and do some incredible things. The difference that it can make to some people’s lives is insurmountable.

“There are people who wouldn’t talk at all when they first came but they are able to now.

“Obviously we all like to help people but there is also the practical element – having somewhere like that to go helps members to be healthy and happy, which reduces their need for health services.”