AFTER 27 years of working with vulnerable and exploited children, Ian McClure's mental health began to decline rapidly.

He suffered with nightmares, headaches, day terrors and panic attacks and was running on a cocktail of mood stabilisers, antidepressants and Tramadol.

Ian said: "I became a workaholic, working 17 hours a day and coped with that by drinking.

"I'd drink to oblivion, sleep for three hours, then go again.

"It got to the point where I had to leave the business and then spent four months in a psychiatric hospital."

Ian worked in children's services for 17 years, helping the country's most prolific young offenders and working in children's homes.

A job he loved but he made the decision to venture into the private sector and set up a recruitment and training company.

This involved Ian delivering conflict management training before expanding into to first aid, health and safety and therapeutic management of self harm and disorders.

The business went from strength to strength and employed 450 staff but with that came stress and profit.

Ian said: "I realised that some of our most vulnerable adults and young people were being looked after in the private sector.

"I thought 'this isn't right' and then my mental health started go."

Ian's story will resonate with some; an inability to balance his health against work pressures, and ultimately this led to a mental breakdown.

Several years on, the Great Sankey man is 'well, content and living a great life' while working to keep his mental health a strong as possible.

He said: "I connect with people, I stay active, I take notice, I keep learning and I give back.

"I also practice gratitude daily and recognise all of the beauty that I am blessed with in life."

Ian's recovery after his hospital treatment took him to Italy where he lived in a Christian community and undertook basic work such as lumber jacking.

He said: "Everyone's journey of recovery is unique. After 27 years of filling my head with pictures of child exploitation and abuse, standing on a mountainside chopping wood became a heaven for me.

"It was a hell of a journey and then I supplemented that with Warrington services when I returned.

"Warrington has amazing services but people are not accessing them enough."

Ian joined the Warrington Time to Change Hub as a champion which helps to change the way people think and act about mental health.

Led by Warrington Speak Up, in partnership with Warrington Borough Council, the champions are residents with lived experience of mental health.

Ian said: "We want to end stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health then people can say they are struggling.

"We get people with lived experience with mental health problems or illnesses who have now got to a point where they are happy to say 'I struggled and didn't talk to anyone because of that but once I heard about the support it removed the stigma'.

"We recruit as many champions as we can with various mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, alcohol addiction or eating disorders."

On Time to Talk day last week, the hub launched Chit Chat Chairs at Golden Square Shopping Centre.

In line with a national employer pledge which gets leaders involved to help their workers through difficult times, organisations such as Golden Square are now addressing the need for balancing work pressures and mental wellbeing.

Located next to River Island, the dedicated area provides a safe and relaxing space, inviting people to sit down and talk freely about any issues they may have with like-minded individuals.

Visitors will also have regular access to Time to Change champions, who will be on-hand to offer advice.

Golden Square’s chaplain will also be visiting on an ongoing basis.

Ian Cox, centre director for Golden Square Shopping Centre, said: “We want to get more people talking than ever this year. The more conversations we have, the more myths we can bust and barriers we can break down.

"Golden Square sits at the heart of the community and we are committed to supporting those who may be struggling in life and giving them somewhere they can share in a comfortable environment and find the help they deserve.”

What help is available in Warrington?

  • Offload - is a mental fitness programme that invites men to come and see how professional rugby league clubs manage and coach players in a range of ways to improve their mental fitness.
  • Directions - is a support group for men who are struggling emotionally. They may have anxiety or depression or just don’t feel that they are coping particularly well in their daily lives.
  • Happy Ok Sad - a website which signposts available facilities such as Beat, Papyrus, Pathways to Recovery, Footsteps for Families and State of Mind.

When asked why people would put off having a conversation about mental health, the top reasons in the north west were: they didn’t feel they knew enough about the topic to be any help, were worried about what they might hear and preferred to keep things light hearted' when chatting with friends and family.

To encourage open conversations about mental health and to address the concerns highlighted in the research, Time to Change has compiled some helpful tips for talking.

  • Ask questions and listen; 'how does it affect you?' or 'what does it feel like?'
  • Think about the time and place; sometimes it’s easier to talk side-by-side. Try chatting while doing something else, like walking
  • Don’t try and fix it; resist the urge to offer quick fixes, often listening is enough.

During the course of a year, one in four of us will experience a mental health set-back, but many are too afraid to share this with others.

Starting a dialogue about it might seem daunting but simply sending a text, checking in on a friend or sharing something on social media can break the ice.

Have you accessed mental health support facilities in Warrington and have they helped you through a difficult time?

Get in touch with health reporter Isobel Cotogni on with your story.