During Mental Health Awareness Week Mel told us about how despite their separate mental and physical health conditions, she and her husband Lee have been each other’s unpaid carers for over 20 years.
Mel, 59 has severe mental health issues, which mean she will not leave her home unless someone is with her. She also has Osteoarthritis in all her joints and uses a stick and a walker.
“At times I dissociate, so Lee, who is 54, looks after my three children. Although he is not their father he looks after them as if they were his own. On birthdays and Christmas, our house is full of new toys.
“When Lee started caring for me, he was still working for Salisbury Council, which he had to give up due to his own ill health. The constant caring resulted in depression, and he has also had cancer of the bowel, which he has since recovered from.
“Carer Support Wiltshire now provide regular respite breaks which he is really grateful for, and which has been very supportive. I know if he didn't have these respite breaks, in the week, he would have gone under a long time ago. Sometimes he will go out, or I will, so he can have a break at home.”
In recent years, a Carers Trust grant has given Lee a week’s holiday which has been a lifesaver for him. He goes to a lovely Farm in Taunton, where they have small farm animals. They have an accessible static van which is ideal for Lee who walks with sticks. He finds this week relaxing as he takes loads of DVDs and draws caricatures, which he really enjoys.
“Lee use to put my clothes out every day, he did that for over 20 years, now I have help with the carers, so they try to help me do things, so now Lee just has to worry about my mental health in the day, and not my care.”
Five years ago, when severe health issues landed Mel in hospital, her mental health suffered resulting in having a mental health social worker assigned to her.
“He has helped change my life so much, especially through lock down, when Lee was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and was very ill. The support we received through the pandemic was awesome. Lee is now in remission and with the help of the carers I cared for Lee - I was a nurse for 30 years.
"At that time, I also saw a consultant who referred me to the Richmond Fellowship, they are a mental health organisation who come in and help, so we started to do small jobs around the house, went out for a walk a few times, then out for coffee.
“We got on really well, and she told me about a Project called Human Henge. It was a pilot study, with The Restoration Trust, English Heritage, Bournemouth University, Richmond Fellowship, the local Health Authority. It was formed for people with mental health difficulties and was launched to see how a historical project could be of benefit.
“This amazing project changed my life. I went to several conferences about it, and I was even helped to promote it on TV. Since then, I have met others in the group based round the country, who were about to start on projects at Burgh Castle which lasted two years.
“I also had the opportunity to join a group within The Restoration Trust, where we all live with different types of mental health conditions, but still have a focus on things for the Restoration Trust.
The most exciting thing for me is that they were looking for trustees and I really felt a pull to put myself up for this, as I wanted to give something back. They voted apparently unanimously for me to become a Trustee.
“I have come full circle. I still suffer badly at times with my mental health, but when I am well, to do something for an organisation that really cares about the well-being of others, including history, is awesome."