When two Midlothian women started their own mental health support group little did they suspect it would go on to provide vital support to hundreds of others.
Setting up Pink Ladies 1st in October 2006 for their own support, Maria Martin, from Loanhead, and Sheila Peaston, from Roslin, discovered there was a gap in mental health care to help women experiencing stress, anxiety or depression.
Since then, around 900 women have benefited from the charity and it has between 35 and 45 people attending four classes a year, with up to 300 referrals annually.
From the outset, Maria (57) was shocked by the need for the group’s services.
She said: “We recognised there was a gap, with both Shelia and I knowing there was no support available for stress-related issues.
“It started off as a group for women in their 50s, and then we started getting contacted by younger and older women.
“It was then we realised just how big mental health problems are in Midlothian. It’s quite frightening to see how many people are looking for help.”
To mark its 10th anniversary, Pink Ladies 1st is launching ‘From Grey to Pink’, a collection of stories by women who have all been through the group. Around 100 guests are expected at a special launch event next Tuesday (November 22) .
The publication has been funded by the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, with proceeds going towards Pink Ladies 1st funds.
Maria said: “It’s a fantastic book and we are so proud of it. It is full of fitting tales that empower and stories that challenge.
“A couple of years ago we did creative writing classes and the book came from that. One of our ladies, Fran Stewart, who is a fantastic writer, is going to co-host the event.”
Maria believes that her and Sheila’s personal experiences of mental health problems are behind the success of Pink Ladies 1st.
She said: “Being peer-led helps us understand how the women feel.”
Maria said many of the problems faced were historical, with women being in the system for up to 20 years, taking anti-depressant medication or facing long waiting times for therapy.
“We have a model which is unique,” she said. “Trust is important, and that takes time. Pink Ladies 1st offers long-term support, not just one-off classes. After people complete a course we have a whole range of activities available. It doesn’t just end. Continuous support is offered in various forms through weekly groups and social events, which are as important as our self- management courses.”
It could be said Pink Ladies 1st is a victim of its own success.
“Our referral rate is rising constantly as word spreads and doctors are happy to refer people to us,” Marie said.
Maria revealed that Pink Ladies 1st was also looking out for younger women.
She said: “We piloted a programme at Dalkeith High School because we fear that, through social media, young women are having a difficult time with mental well-being.
“I think young women are losing their confidence very early at school and if you grow up with that you are going to have mental health issues into your adult life.
“It’s something we would love to address, we just need the money.”
Like any charity, it spends a lot of time hunting down funding. Started with just £500, now it requires permanent staff and tens of thousands of pounds to secure its future.
“We would like to work on expanding because of numbers increasing in Midlothian but we need financial sustainability first,” Maria said.
“Everybody is after the same money so competition is fierce.
“We currently have enough money to run the service until April 2018.”
Support has come from the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, Midlothian and East Lothian Drug and Alcohol Partnership (MELDAP) and Midlothian Council.
Despite the ongoing challenge of securing funding, Maria is upbeat and positive about the future.
She and Sheila have had an incredible journey to get the group to where it is now. “I couldn’t have imagined it would have been as successful as it has been,” she said
Copies of ‘From Grey to Pink’ cost £5 and can be purchased from staff or through the group’s website www.pinkladies1st.org