Mother and daughter role models open up about mental health issues to help train health workers

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Brigitte Prior and her daughter Angelina

A caregiver and model who helped her teenage daughter overcome acute depression and anxiety is sharing her experiences to help train medical professionals treating mental illness.

Brigitte Prior, who works as a medical assistant at Gwern Alyn care home in Pendine Park in Wrexham, has been invited as a guest speaker at online training sessions run by her daughter’s former therapist, Nicola English, at the Bangor University.

Angelina Prior, 19, battled suicidal thoughts, self-harm and anorexia during the height of her mental health struggles which began at the age of 14.

Brigitte says her daughter’s life was saved thanks to the intervention of Wrexham Child Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), where Nicola previously worked as a therapist.

Now, having transformed her life, Angelina and Brigitte, students at the University of Leeds, are both giving back by using their experiences to help medical professionals understand the depths of mental illness in adolescents.

Beauty pageant contestant Brigitte, who was born in Rinteln, northern Germany, and now lives in Wrexham, said: ‘It’s great that we can now try to help with the experience we have lived.

“If we can help healthcare professionals see things from our perspective and see the whole child, not just the prognosis, that’s a good thing. It’s very important for them to see how you deal with mental illness as a family.

“Angelina was probably around 14 when it all started. She told me she was depressed and I immediately took her to the doctor, but I didn’t think too much about it. I didn’t expect what they would say next – that it was really serious and that she had suicidal thoughts all the time.

“She was so bad she was referred right away. It was an absolute shock to me as a mom because I didn’t see it coming.

“She missed school for months, lying in a dark room against the wall, it was horrible. She was really bad. In the end, she had to move to another school – Haulfan School in Wrexham , which is a student guidance service only for young people with mental health and anxiety issues.

“They were absolutely fantastic and between them, CAMHS and our immediate family, I think we saved Angelina’s life.”

“Endangering life”

Angelina, who recently followed in her mother’s footsteps into part-time modeling, is now studying for a degree in business management at the University of Leeds having achieved A* across the board in her A-Levels.

“It would mean the world to me if hearing about my experiences would help even one person,” she said.

“I struggled for many years with thoughts of inadequacy and loneliness. There were many points in high school that added to my rapidly deteriorating mental health, such as exam stress, bullying and the fact that my friends no longer wanted to associate with me.

“I was self-harming every day which resulted in permanent scarring all over, and I developed anorexia which became fatal very quickly. For years I was extremely suicidal and felt like the whole world and my family would be better off without me.

“However, throughout this difficult time, I had the privilege of being a client of Nicola English at Wrexham Child Adolescent Mental Health Services. Nicola helped me by providing me with strategies and routines that I could use when I felt weak.

“She also taught me healthy coping mechanisms that I could replace unhealthy ones with.”

Gwern Alyn’s manager, Cindy Clutton, congratulated Brigitte and Angelina on their new roles.

She said: “To relive this difficult time in Angelina’s life is an extremely courageous thing to do and I commend Brigitte and Angelina for their courage.

“Their combined experiences and knowledge will be extremely valuable to these professionals and help improve the support and services available for adolescents with mental health issues in the future.

“Brigitte is a kind and compassionate caregiver, who always puts others before herself. It’s no surprise that she wants to help other young people in this personal and poignant way. I wish Brigitte and Angelina every success in this training project.

Pendine Park Gwern Alyn care practitioner Brigitte Prior who models. Photo Mandy Jones

‘Miracle’

Brigitte, who recently represented Miss Clwyd in the national final of the Classic Miss British Isles 2020/21 model competition and has appeared in photography magazines, said she was honored to be part of the new training sessions for the university and has already participated in an online discussion.

The mother-of-two suffered from her own mental health challenges until around 10 years ago and is keen to help improve services for others facing the same difficulties in the future.

She added, “The first online teaching session was nerve-wracking, but people said it really helped them and I was so glad I did. It’s daunting, but Nicola asked me a lot of questions which helped me out,” said Brigitte, who previously worked at Penybryn nursing home in Pendine, where she cared for people suffering of brain damage.

“They were interested in my perspective as a mom. We are what we call “experienced experts”.

“There are so many young people who suffer from mental health issues, for example because of the pressure to think they have to look a certain way, especially on social media

“Bullying doesn’t stop in the classroom – you’re followed everywhere online, there’s no escape. I wouldn’t want to be young today.

“My daughter had a lot of mental health issues but luckily she’s doing much better now. She’s at university and really enjoying her life – it’s a miracle.

Angelina added: ‘I’ve always thought people were lying to me or being clichéd when they said things were getting better over time, but in the last few years I’ve noticed an astronomical change in myself incorporating the things learned. in therapy and also doing my own. researching recovery, such as reading self-help books or listening to podcasts.

“The best thing to do is find something that makes you happy and focus on it. And please don’t give up, no matter how difficult things may seem at the time. They will always improve.”


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