HER own experience of dealing with depression has led Oakmere mum Jenna Dixon to create a support group for people with mental health issues.

Having been diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) the founder of Beat the Darkness went from being fit and active to suffering many of the physical and neurological symptoms of this debilitating illness.

“I was a very physically active person who became someone who could barely move on certain days due to sheer exhaustion and pain,” said the 39-year-old mum-of-three.

“I piled on weight but couldn’t do anything about it – my brain wanted me to move, but my body just wouldn’t let me. It really made me spiral into depression. But my depression is ultimately what has made me want to help other people struggling with their mental health.”

Jenna was inspired to set up the group after seeing an online advert for a similar initiative in Manchester where a café owner opened his business one evening a month to people with mental health issues.

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“It was basically a place where they could go and play board games over a cup of tea and a biscuit, socialise without fear of being judged and just forget about their illness for a while,” said Jenna.

“I just thought wouldn’t it be brilliant if every county had something like this? Having suffered with mental health issues myself over the years, I’ve often found talking to family and friends is hard as I didn’t want to burden them, but talking to strangers who were going through similar things seemed much easier.”

With support from her husband Greg, and friends Chris Griffiths and Chris Hunt, Jenna started Beat the Darkness last year with the aim creating a place for people to feel safe, chat and socialise without judgement.

“The idea is to bring together and support people who’ve had similar experiences. None of us are therapists or councillors, but the one thing we’ve got in common is that we’ve all had, or are living with, mental health issues.”

The group is available to anyone from the age of 13 upwards and Jenna believes this intergenerational approach may also help with issues such as tackling loneliness amongst the elderly and isolated.

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In addition to the social aspect of the group, Beat the Darkness plans to offer activities such as meditation classes, mindfulness techniques and visits from therapy dogs. They can also arrange one-to-one sessions for anyone with specific needs.

“At our last meeting we were just roaring with laughter and I had a few people tell me afterwards that they were able to just forget about their illness which is brilliant. I want this to be a supportive and uplifting space for people.”

The group currently meets at either the Abbey Arms or Delamere Community Centre between 5.30pm and 7.30pm on the last Tuesday of each month. To find out where the next meeting takes place or for more information search for Beat the Darkness on Facebook.