Interview with Trina Whittaker: The Honours List
Digital team's blog
Trina Whittaker, is a mental health campaigner, who runs two support groups with Rethink Mental Illness in her local area of Braintree – an carers group and an art group. Louie, from our communications team, spoke to Trina about her journey with mental health, being mentioned in The Honours List and what she has coming up next.
So Trina, take us right back to the beginning. How did all your work within mental health start?
It all started when my son was 17 and he became unwell, we just couldn’t get any support for him and it was a really difficult time for all of us. However, at 23 we managed to get him into the mental health system! I had read about Rethink Mental Illness in a magazine, and thought it couldn’t help to ring their advice and information helpline. They were amazing. They pushed me in the right direction, and my first step was to see a GP.
The first GP visit was a bit of a nightmare. The GP told me that it was simply a ‘clash of personalities’ between me and my son, and completely dismissed everything I had been saying. Though, I wasn’t going to give up there as I saw another GP who told me although she understood completely, my son was the one who needed to consult with her. However, she told me that I should join a carer group.
So I started going to a carers group, the couple who ran it were amazing. It started 30 years ago and 12 years ago I became the co-ordinator. I couldn’t have done it without all of those who gave me the support and love I needed when I first started going.
So where did the art aspect come into it?
Well, I ran the 5k ladies challenge, and wasn’t quite sure what to do with the money I raised. My son has been to art school, and at the time it made sense to put on an exhibition showcasing the work of users from local services!
That sounds fantastic. What happened next for you to start your own group?
Not too long after the exhibition, all of the local services had shut down and people started asking me to set up my own art group. So I did, and here I am 8 years later.
I had a lovely time meeting all of your art group members – they were all so welcoming.
I know, they truly are an amazing group of people. I’ve learnt so much from them, and they learn so much from each other. In one way or another, they are all in the same boat and aren’t afraid to say it how it is – I think that’s why the end up helping each other without even realising it.
With all the amazing work, it’s not a surprise you were recognised in the New Years Honour List. How do you feel?
I can’t even get my head around it! I’ve been getting so many letters and message of support recently, which means I’ve been crying (happy tears) pretty much non-stop for the past few days.
How did your art group react when you told them?
They had me in hysterics, you would have been dying with laughter had you been there. The very first thing they did was teach me how to curtsy!
So, what’s next? What else have you got up your sleeve?
Quite a few different things actually.
I’ve applied for funding to take my art group to London to visit the National Gallery and other historic museums. It’s not something they would usually do by themselves but as a group they’ll really gain so much from it.
I want to organise an event in Highland Park for carers and service users. We can learn so much from each other and by simply connected people who are facing the same struggles can make the world of difference.
And next, the really big dream, is to hold an art exhibition in London. We have very talented artists in our group and their art should to be shown off to the world.
But right now? I am off to practise my curtsy for the garden party I will be attending in Buckingham Palace for the New Years Honour’s List.
Rethink Mental Illness runs a network of over 100 support groups in the UK. To find your nearest visit www.rethink.org/supportgroups