Father and daughter’s mental health fundraiser for charity close to their heart

Steve and Keely Smithurst are organising a mental health fundraiser with motor vehicle students at City College in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith Steve and Keely Smithurst are organising a mental health fundraiser with motor vehicle students at City College in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
6:30 AM

Four years ago, Keely Smithurst could not eat, sleep and could hear voices that culminated in her trying to take her own life.

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But the young mother said “there is hope in the darkness” after mental health staff helped her overcome her demons and learn to manage her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.

The 21-year-old and her father Steve Smithurst, who both work at City College Norwich, are now hoping to raise awareness of mental health problems by staging a fundraising event for the Mental Health Foundation next month.

Miss Smithurst, from Dereham, said her battle with mental health started when she was 17, which began with mood swings and irrational decisions and developed into hallucinations and voices in her head.

Her crisis came to a head in March 2010 when she tried to jump from a balcony in Dereham, which resulted her being admitted to Hellesdon Hospital for three days and being transferred to the private Priory hospital in London.

Miss Smithurst, who works for the curriculum services team at City College, said it was battle to get her condition recognised to start with.

“I wanted to get help, but was refused on numerous occasions and I was diagnosed with mild depression by my GP before I went to Hellesdon. If my GP had given anti-depressants, it would have made the condition much worse,” she said.

Miss Smithurst, spent three months in the Priory where she was placed on an intense therapy programme and learnt to control her condition with the help of psychiatrists.

She has worked for City College for more than a year and became a mum four months ago to baby Evelyn. She added that she was managing her condition without medication and with the support of her family and fiancé.

Miss Smithurst said she wanted to share her story to raise awareness and give hope to others going through similar experiences.

“It is hard when you are in that place because it is quite a lonely feeling. But to know that other people have been through it and come out the other side, it is a bit of a pick me up. I still have the illness and I will have it forever, but there are ways and means of controlling it and recognising the signs,” she said.

She added that she wanted to thank all of her family and friends and mental health staff that had helped her and she wanted to show people that mental illness is real.

“Sometimes it is a chemical imbalance, sometimes it is a brain disorder, sometimes it is a result of trauma, or a part of grief. But if it is called a mental illness then it is an illness. Just because you can’t see it and there are ways of keeping it under control, doesn’t make it any less important than anything else,” she said.

Mr Smithurst, motor vehicle lecturer, and a group of 30 of his students will be walking from City College Norwich to the Norfolk Showground for the start of the Norfolk Show on June 25 where they will cycle continuously on stationery bikes for two days. They will walk back to the college on June 26.

Mr Smithurst said: “This fundraising is very close to my heart. If it wasn’t for the help of medical professionals and hospital treatment Keely probably wouldn’t be here today.”

To sponsor them and raise money for the mental health research charity, visit www.justgiving.com/keepthelightshining

Have you got a mental health story? Email adam.gretton@archant.co.uk

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