A formerly homeless man who has turned his life around with the help of local charity Emmaus Colchester is sharing his ongoing struggle with depression to highlight the link between mental health and homelessness for Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May).

Daniel Mountier, 28, has been homeless three times since the age of 18 due to depression and drug use: “Growing up my mum fostered, and our place was often hectic with eight or more children in the house. I was expected to be the example as the eldest brother, and I felt like I couldn’t always live up to that expectation.”

By year 10, Daniel began to experience early signs of depression: “By the age of 15 I didn’t feel like myself. I would break down in tears without knowing why, and began misbehaving in school. The teachers came down hard on me, and my mum thought it was just teenage angst.”

Within a matter of months, Daniel became suicidal: “I was breaking down most days and became suicidal – being suspended from school only made matters worse. The depression and stress at home became too much to handle and my friends began to distance themselves from me.”

Daniel found refuge in drugs as a way to cope: “I began using drugs as a way to deal with the pressures of my family home, everyday life, and suicidal thoughts. At the time, it seemed to help with my depression as a short term fix – it made me forget about all of the negative things in my life.”

As Daniel self-medicated, his situation escalated: “The late nights and drug use began to cause arguments in my family, and my parents kicked me out when I turned 18. I didn’t really have anywhere to go, so I pitched a tent in a field near where I worked and slept there.”

Homeless and suffering with depression, Daniel’s situation only worsened: “I spent nights sleeping on park benches because I didn’t know anyone in the area, and I got arrested a couple of times because I was sleeping rough. My drug-using quickly escalated when I became homeless and I lost months of my life to the Class B drug, Mephedrone. I lost my job and got into a lot of debt. It was only when I began using it as a replacement for sugar in my tea that I realised I had a problem, and I was very lucky to be able to slowly wean myself off.”

Life began looking up for Daniel in his early 20s when he moved in with his grandparents: “I started my gas qualification, but I felt stuck in a cycle where things will be going well, then something would happen that would trigger my depression. When my Nan and Granddad died within a short time of each other, I gave up. I didn’t finish my gas qualification and I withdrew from everything. I didn’t see my parents or siblings for the better part of two years during that period and I was just waiting around for nothing. That went on for over four years.”

Before coming to Emmaus Colchester, Daniel was sleeping rough for the third time since the age of 18: “I spent four weeks finding cubby holes on the street to sleep in before coming to Emmaus in September 2017.”

With the help of Emmaus Colchester and counselling sessions, Daniel has begun to address his mental health issues: “I’m in a better place at Emmaus – I don’t have to live on the streets, live on a sofa, pitch up a tent, or worry about the police or getting mugged. It’s a safe place and everyone looks out for each other.

“It felt like I had spent my whole life struggling, I was trying to do the best I could every day of my life, but I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. I’m now starting to see a landscape in front of me, whereas a few months ago I could see nothing.”

Poor mental health is both a cause and consequence of homelessness. According to Homeless Link, 44% of homeless people have a mental health diagnoses, in comparison with 23% of the general population [source: Health Needs Audit, 2016 – Homeless Link]. Many people arrive at Emmaus Colchester having had undiagnosed mental health issues such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder which either led to homelessness, or intensified following homelessness.

Emmaus Colchester provides a home and meaningful work for 31 people who have experienced homelessness and social exclusion, offering them an alternative route out of homelessness within a supportive environment. Companions volunteer full time while they are at Emmaus selling second-hand furniture, upcycled pieces, and household items at its two charity shops on the High Street, the Emmaus Works shop on Osborne Street and a warehouse on Arthur Street. The income generated through Emmaus’s shops goes straight back into the community and enables companions to develop skills, rebuild their self-respect and help others in greater need than themselves.

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