Meeting of minds

14 May 2019 | Wales

Hafal - Mair Elliott

Inspirational Mair is determined to help youngsters with mental health issues.

Meet the inspirational 22-year-old battling to ensure that youngsters in Wales get access to mental health services.

Mair Elliott has drawn on her own experience to become a leading voice to help and support young people facing mental health challenges in her community.

She was just 14 when she began to suffer from panic attacks and depression. By the age of 16 it had progressed into a form of psychosis and she also developed a severe eating disorder.

Mair says her issues began at school when the pressure to achieve began to take its toll. Growing up in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, she was marked out as different from an early age. “I was pegged as Oxford material by the adults around me. It was too much pressure.”

She began self harming, developed anorexia nervosa, and was in and out of hospital. At the same time she was diagnosed as autistic.

“What made it so much harder, was trying to negotiate the child and adolescent mental health services. It seemed impossible for either myself or my school to get the right therapy for me,” explains Mair. “That meant I was not getting the right treatment and was then a danger to myself. It was not until I was 17 that I finally got access to the right kind of therapy for me.”

That she is alive and well and making a difference to her community can be attributed in large part to the incredible help of the mental health charity Hafal. Covering all of Wales, it is managed by the people it supports – individuals with serious mental illness and their families.

Every day staff and volunteers help more than 1,500 people like Mair affected by serious mental illness including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other diagnoses which typically involve psychosis or high levels of care, and which may require hospital treatment.

The aim is to empower those with serious mental illness and their families to achieve a better quality of life, fulfil their ambitions for recovery, fight discrimination and enjoy equal access to health and social care, housing, income, education, and employment.

And it delivers a range of services including crisis support, advice, advocacy, support in a group setting, introductions for befriending, and employment and training projects.

As she began to feel better, Mair started working with Hafal to develop a campaign about young people and mental health. The project was so respected that it went on to directly influence how the Welsh government provides mental health services. “I am not a doctor, but I am an expert because every day I battle mental illness,” she says. “Mental illness has taken seven years of my life away from me, it took my education, my health and nearly my life.”

Today she is a trustee with Hafal and also speaks at schools and conferences about her experiences, with the aim of helping others.

“She has made an enormous difference to how children and young people’s mental health services are being developed in Wales,” says Alun Thomas from Hafal. “She has spoken to ministers and government officials and made a massive difference to how policy makers see young people’s mental health.”

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