A care worker and model who supported her teenage daughter to overcome acute depression and anxiety is sharing her experiences to help train health professionals treating mental illness.
Brigitte Prior, who works as a healthcare assistant at Pendine Park’s Gwern Alyn care home in Wrexham, has been invited as a guest speaker during online training sessions delivered by her daughter’s former therapist Nicola English at Bangor University.
Angelina Prior, 19, battled suicidal thoughts, self-harm and anorexia at the height of her mental health struggles which started when she was 14.
Brigitte says her daughter’s life was saved thanks to the intervention of the Wrexham Child Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), where Nicola previously worked as a therapist.
Now, after transforming her life, Leeds University student Angelina and Brigitte are both giving back by using their experiences to help health professionals understand the depths of teenage mental illness.
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 and help with the experience we went through.
“If we can help health professionals see things from our perspectives and see the whole child not just the prognosis it’s a great thing. It’s very important for them to see how you deal with mental illness as a family.
“Angelina was probably about 14 or so when everything started. She told me she was depressed and I took her to the doctor straight away but didn’t think that much of it. I didn’t expect what they would say next – that it was really serious and she was having suicidal thoughts all the time.
“She was that bad she was referred straight away. It was an absolute shock for me as a mum as I didn’t see it coming.
“She missed school for months just lying in a dark room against the wall, it was horrific. She was really bad. In the end, she had to move to a different school – the Haulfan School in Wrexham which is a pupil referral service only for young people who have mental health issues and anxiety.
“They were absolutely fantastic and between them, CAMHS and our immediate family, I think we saved Angelina’s life.”
Angelina, who has recently followed her mum’s footsteps into part-time modelling, is now studying for a business management degree at Leeds University after achieving A* across the board in her A-Levels.
“It would mean the world to me if hearing about my experiences would help even just one person,” she said.
“I’ve 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 my friends not wanting to associate with me anymore.
“I was self-harming every day which has resulted in permanent scars everywhere, and I developed anorexia which very quickly became life-threatening. 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 was feeling low. She also taught me healthy coping mechanisms that I could replace the unhealthy ones with.”
Gwern Alyn manager Cindy Clutton praised Brigitte and Angelina on their new roles.
She said: “Reliving this difficult period in Angelina’s life is an extremely brave thing to do and I congratulate Brigitte and Angelina on their courage.
“Their combined experiences and insight will be hugely value to these professionals and help improve the support and services available for teenagers suffering mental health issues in the future.
“Brigitte is a kind and compassionate carer, always putting others before herself. It is of no surprise that she would want to help other young people in this personal and poignant way. I wish both Brigitte and Angelina every success in this training project.”
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 honoured to be part of the university’s new training sessions and has already taken part in one online discussion.
The mum-of-two suffered her own mental health struggles up until about 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 very glad that I’d done it. It’s daunting but Nicola asked me lots of questions which helped me to get through it,” said Brigitte, who previously worked at Pendine’s Penybryn care home, caring for people with brain injuries.
“They were interested in my point of view as a mum. We are what are called ‘experts through experience’.
“There are so many young people suffering mental health problems, for example due the pressure of thinking they have to look a certain way, especially on social media
“The bullying doesn’t stop in the classroom – you’re followed everywhere online, there’s no escape. I would not want to be young today.
“My daughter had a lot of mental health issues but is thankfully much better now. She’s at uni and she’s really enjoying her life – it’s a miracle.”
Angelina added: “I always thought people were lying to me or being cliché when they said that things get better with time, but the past few years I have noticed an astronomical change in myself through incorporating the things learned in therapy and also doing my own research on 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 hard things may seem in that moment. They will always get better.”