Michaela Woods: 'Reach out if you are able to' (Photo courtesy of RM Photography)

Michaela Woods has struggled with anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder since she was a child.

This is a struggle she continues to deal with and has required her to seek help through work.

“I attempted suicide about three weeks ago,” she says.

When this happened, Michaela told her work and received a great deal of help.

“The support that I’ve had from work has been incredible. I’ve only been there two months, but the support has been overwhelming.”

“In the last few years I just thought I am having a hard time and I am going to talk about it.”

Despite her troubles, the 22-year-old has found comfort – and more – in music.

Speaking softly and with a slight stammer, she says: “In the last few years I just thought, no, I am having a hard time and I am going to talk about it. Because it’s hard when you’re going through these things, but also trying to do it on your own.”

The singer-songwriter says music has forged a connection between her and others who have experienced similar problems with their mental health.

“I’ve connected with so many other people who have heard my stuff and said: ‘oh my god, that’s how I feel’. And I think it’s hard to talk about, people tip-toe around it and that’s not what I’m going to do.”

Michaela first started playing music early in her life.

“I’ve been writing since I was about 12 or 13 and I have two poetry books out. I’ve kind of always been a singer. I think I picked up a guitar when I was 15, and then it all just kind of merged . I realised quite a lot of my poetry could be turned into song.”

Michaela planned on bringing her music to MindFest, a charity concert at Albert’s in Nottingham, which raised £1,575 money for Mind UK.

However, she was hospitalised after her recent suicide attempt and was unable to perform.

“I was getting worse. I kept on trying but then admitted to myself that I’ve got a problem.”

The driving force behind MindFest is Aaron Juska-Bowes, 32.

Like Michaela, Aaron has struggled with anxiety since childhood. A recent episode was triggered by the responsibility of supporting his wife through post-natal depression following the birth of their third child.

“You feel as the man you’re programmed to step up and look after the whole family, and I was doing a lot of work as well. I managed for a few months. And I felt awful but said I can’t go down now my wife is suffering from depression. She needs me.

“I was getting worse and worse and worse. I kept on trying but then admitted to myself that I’ve got a problem.”

Aaron was referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) by his doctor. This type of therapy focuses on talking, and is designed to help patients change the way they think in order to help them manage their problems.

It is commonly used to treat anxiety and depression as negative thinking is strongly linked to these mental health issues. CBT can help to combat this by helping patients to think more positively.

It was during a CBT session that Aaron’s therapist suggested he get back into music, something he had taken himself away from following the birth of his first child.

“I started writing again and it started flooding out. I’ve written too much music! So music is very therapeutic to me,” he says.

Aaron started to organise MindFest initially as a birthday treat.

This was before one of the bands he’d booked asked if he was doing it for charity.

Reflecting on this with a wry smile, he says: “I thought ‘that’s a really good idea’, it’ll be really good to put it towards something to do with mental health like Mind. And then everything got bigger and bigger.”

Mind have previously posted online about the positive impact of music on mental health: “It may be obvious to us, but there is strong evidence for the link between music and mental wellbeing,” Taryn Ozorio of Mind Communications said in a blog

This was on the back of a study, published by Nature Neuroscience, which found that dopamine was up to 9% higher in those who listened to music they enjoyed.

Michaela and Aaron are evidence that music can support those suffering with mental health issues. While these may not go away completely, music can be a way to express feelings which have previously been self-contained.

“write things down, reach out as well if you are able to, just talk about it.”

Michaela emphasised the role positive thinking plays in mental good health.

“Always try to put it into something positive, something creative, it doesn’t have to be anything that you can actually put into the world.

“So write things down, reach out as well if you are able to, just talk about it. If you do reach out to somebody, the person that you’re reaching out to will probably have either struggled with it or know someone who does.”

If you, or anyone you know, has experienced similar scenarios expressed in this article. The Samaritans provide a free, 24-hour helpline for anyone experiencing feelings of distress. Please call: 116 123, if you require this.

Further information regarding the conditions discussed can also be found at Mind UK.