Katie Thistleton’s Story


CBBC presenter Katie Thistleton  for Open Shutters by Lisa Marie Gee of Studio G Photography
Katie Thistleton

I’m a journalist and presenter: I present a show called Life Hacks on BBC Radio 1 which is all about young people’s issues, and I also present for CBBC. I do CBBC HQ, which is the modern day version of the broom cupboard! I’ve worked in various jobs at the BBC and also used to work for an NHS mental health trust – Pennine Care – in the office. I’m an advocate for mental health awareness and work with charities such as PLACE2BE and YoungMinds regularly, I’ve also written a book called ‘Dear Katie’ for 10-16 year olds. It’s an agony aunt style book with problem letters from real young people and advice from myself, a doctor and a child psychotherapist.


I have always been very anxious but for a long time didn’t really know how to put into words how I felt, and I certainly wasn’t aware that it was something you could treat as an illness, rather than a personality flaw. A few years ago my anxiety and hectic lifestyle led to me having a bit of a breakdown where I had to accept I was feeling quite depressed. Medication and counselling both hugely helped me and I still struggle now – particularly when I’m overworked and not looking after myself properly. But now I can spot the signs and prioritise self care.

I honestly think I displayed symptoms of anxiety as a really young child – I used to feel like I was struggling to breathe, and my parents would wonder if it was allergies. It was only when aged 19 I was experiencing the same feelings that a doctor diagnosed me with panic disorder and I realised I’d had bouts of it all my life. Even as a baby my mum said I always had clammy hands which is an anxiety symptom I’ve carried through life!

Feeling depressed made me appreciate all the little things in life once I got better, and made me focus on the only things that matter to me – the things that make me feel good. Before that I was always trying to be someone else, always trying to find a purpose. I realised after being depressed that I already had a purpose and an identity, and I didn’t have to try so hard to get one. I also think people are more likely to ask me for help now I’ve spoken out, which I’m glad about. I want my nieces and nephews and friends and family to be able to talk to me about anything. I think speaking out about mental illness is so freeing – you feel like you don’t have to try so hard to pretend everything is OK once you do.

My advice? Write a list of all the things that really matter to you, and make you feel good, the big and the small, and take the pressure off yourself. Do less of what you don’t want to do and more of what you do. Don’t be afraid to try counselling or anti depressants – neither are anything to be ashamed of and might change your life.

I chose to have my photo taken with my anti-depressants because they really were life changing for me. When I was depressed I felt I was underground, in the dark and unable to motivate myself to do any of the things I needed to do to feel better. The anti-depressants, even though they made me feel worse for the first few days or so, picked me up and put me on level ground, so I could begin to do things I needed to do to make my life easier – exercise, say no to things I didn’t want to do, read books, see friends and family. They took away the negative fog so I no longer thought I was the most worthless person in the world. I’m happy to be taking them, and will forever if I need to, and I can.




Lisa Barnes’ Story

Lisa Barnes of Bridge the Gap photographed for the Open Shutters Project

My name is Lisa Barnes and I’m a manager for a large company. I would say that I’m your average person, married 2x children. I would say that over my 46 yrs I have struggled with depression at points in my life but nothing on the scale that I did back in May 2017.

On the 31st of May 2017 it started off like any other day, I was feeling a bit down but that happens to most of us. As the day went on I found that the noise around me was really loud and I felt overwhelmed by it. People wanted to ask me questions and I was struggling to concentrate. I remember taking a few tablets to try and escape it all. They didn’t work, things just felt like they were piling up so I took some more. The next thing I really remember is waking up in hospital. I was asked some question about if i was going to try and kill myself again then I was discharged.

The next 10 days were a struggle of ups and downs, feeling of guilt and wanting to hide away.

On the 10th of June everything came to a head and I found myself on top of a bridge ready to jump.

I feel im one of the lucky ones as a police negotiator managed to talk me down. Everything was felt dark and i just wanted all the pain i was feeling to stop.

I believe now that everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t have gone through all of that last year, I wouldn’t  be doing what I do now.

A year on and in a far better place I can see the gap within mental health and it’s massive. Mental health is under funded and it’s just getting worse with the pressures of everyday life. I came up with the idea of hanging message/quotes of love and support from our bridges in the hope that it would make anybody in the same place as me pause and hopefully change their mind about suicide. I decorated one bridge near my home and the response was overwhelming. I then spoke to my husband and we made a Facebook page “Bridge the Gap”.

It has been running since 10th June 2018 and we have already saved 5 lives that we know of. We get the community involved when we decorate the bridges which is amazing and I’ve met friends for life through what we do now.

If I could give one piece of advice to anybody that is struggling with feeling of suicide it would be “suicide doesn’t take the pain away, it just passes it to someone else”. Get talking about how you feel it’s not easy but after a while it does get better. The object I choose to use on my photo is this sign. It says everything that people are afraid to say!

Love Lisa xx


You can find details of Lisa’s project, Bridge The Gap, here: https://www.facebook.com/Bridge-The-Gap-175147776473509/


Open Shutters will be exhibiting our portraits at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10. We are fundraising to cover the cost of mounting the exhibition and producing a book. Please contact us if you can help in any way. We’ve got some lovely rewards available for individual and corporate sponsors.

If you have a story to tell and would like to take part in the Open Shutters project please give Lisa a call on 07771 553535 or fill in the form on our contact page.

Claire Eastham’s Story

Claire Eastham


Author and mental health blogger Claire Eastham tells her own Open Shutters story in the 12th video in the series. You can read Claire’s blog, We’re All Mad Here, by clicking here. 


Open Shutters will be exhibiting our portraits at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10. We have launched a Crowdfunder to cover the cost of mounting the exhibition and producing a book. Please have a look at our campaign hereand help if you can. We’ve got some lovely rewards available.

If you have a story to tell and would like to take part in the Open Shutters project please give Lisa a call on 07771 553535 or fill in the form on our contact page.


Darren Whiston’s Story

Darren Whiston

In one of our most moving and powerful videos yet, Darren Whiston explains how putting on his trainers saved his life. Watch him tell his story in the video below.



Open Shutters will be exhibiting our portraits at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10. We have launched a Crowdfunder to cover the cost of mounting the exhibition and producing a book. Please have a look at our campaign hereand help if you can. We’ve got some lovely rewards available.

If you have a story to tell and would like to take part in the Open Shutters project please give Lisa a call on 07771 553535 or fill in the form on our contact page.



Frank Turner’s Story

Frank Turner


As a long-standing Frank Turner fan, I was delighted when the singer-songwriter agreed to take part in the Open Shutters project. He found some time to talk to me before the opening show of his Be More Kind tour in Manchester last month. The album of the same name is (at the time of writing) at number three in the charts. Please give it a listen, it is, to me anyway, the perfect soundtrack to the Open Shutters project.

Frank kindly allowed me to interview him and take his portrait. Watch what he had to say in the video below.



Open Shutters will be exhibiting our portraits at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10. We have launched a Crowdfunder to cover the cost of mounting the exhibition and producing a book. Please have a look at our campaign here and help if you can. We’ve got some lovely rewards available.

If you have a story to tell and would like to take part in the Open Shutters project please give Lisa a call on 07771 553535 or fill in the form on our contact page.


Andy Greenway’s Story

Andy Greenway of Andy's Man Club, Oldham. A portrait by Lisa Marie Gee of Studio G Photography for the Open Shutters Project
Andy Greenway

Andy Greenway, Oldham Facilitator for Andy’s Man Club, tells his own Open Shutters story in the video below. Andy’s Man Club has branches all over the country where men gather every Monday evening to share problems and spread the message that it’s OK to talk. You can find out more about Andy’s Man Club at http://www.andysmanclub.co.uk.



Jasmin’s Story

Jasmin Boylan, Open Shutters portrait by Lisa Maruie Gee of Studio G Photography


I apologise in advance for the length of this blog. Putting this into words has taken me much longer than I anticipated, and I didn’t realise how raw it would feel. However, I also feel it’s important to share my story, as there are thousands of people out there who struggle silently on a daily basis, and if my story can help just one person, I’ll be happy. I haven’t mentioned any specific diagnosis, because I feel that labels ultimately aren’t the important message here, but the strength and experience gained from my weakest times is what keeps me going on a daily basis.

My struggle with poor mental health started at a very young age. For as long as I’ve had a conscious mind, I’ve struggled. I always felt – and sometimes still do feel – somewhat fraudulent because I’ve never been able to pinpoint a specific reason ‘why’. Even though I know my brain has a chemical imbalance, the science behind it backs me up, I used to feel like I didn’t have a right to ‘complain’ or ‘burden’ anyone with my troubling and debilitating thoughts – so I suffered in silence, for the best part of 20 years. It took a complete breakdown for me to initially seek help. Finally reaching out and getting support was the best decision I ever made. I only wish I’d done it years ago.

I didn’t have a tough upbringing, I have amazing parents, family and friends around me. I enjoyed school and always had large groups of good friends. I was a very sensitive child though, and had empathy from a very young age. Looking back, I do feel my ability to ‘put myself in someone else’s shoes’ impacted me mentally more than I could possibly comprehend at the time. I have memories from as young as 5 of people criticising my weight and the way I looked (and I feel it’s important to note here that at 5 years old I certainly wasn’t overweight). Harsh words hurt and cut into me throughout my childhood and teenage years. They’d replay in my mind over and over again, and I hated who I saw in the mirror. I believed all of these things, and started to feel inferior to everyone. The voice inside my head started to reinforce these negative traits, and I slowly started destroying myself mentally, over-thinking and over-analysing every aspect of myself, my life and my relationships. I regularly felt that I didn’t deserve good things or good people around me, and that I only burdened them. I felt that I’d never be enough, or amount to much of anything. I’d never let on to people how I felt though, and I’d be the first to criticise myself or joke at my own expense, as I thought it’d be better for me to get it out the way first, before someone else had the chance to hurt me. I became avoidant of absolutely everything. Very depressed, irritable, anxious and consumed by self loathing.  I always pushed myself to do things and achieve things though, as I was – and still am – very determined that I won’t be beaten by it. I had issues with food, which I now recognise was emotionally linked, and in my late teens I started questioning my sexuality, which took years for me to accept and come to terms with.

Despite my struggles, I’ve always had my own coping mechanisms. I’m very compassionate, emotional and caring, ensuring I always go above and beyond to help anyone in need of it, both in my personal and professional life. I think I felt so strongly about wanting to make a positive difference for two reasons. One being, I would have a purpose, and I could prove to the cruel voice in my head that I WAS worth something and I DID have a reason to carry on by helping others improve their quality of life. The other was because I genuinely cared, and would never wish my struggles on anyone else, and if I could do anything at all to help someone, I would feel like I’d achieved something good. I would however, help others to my own detriment without realising, and this coupled with a long chain of ‘bad’ events, at the age of 23, I had a complete breakdown. I didn’t see a point to anything. I lost all sense of self worth, enjoyment, and none of my coping mechanisms worked. This time though, I couldn’t hide it any more from the people I loved. I’m so grateful for this and the support I received, because without them I truly believe I wouldn’t be here today.

This leads me nicely onto my ‘object’ for this project. My favourite mug. What this mug represents means so much to me. One of my favourite quotes is:

“Sometimes, coffee with your best friend is all the therapy you need”

Now, in my case, I did receive several courses of different therapies, but all paled in comparison to the support I received from my best friend. She helped me through my worst times while experiencing her own, listened to me without judgement and supported me through some of my darkest days. We’d regularly drink coffee and talk through absolutely everything. I can’t thank her enough for everything she did for me (and all of my supportive friends and family, for that matter). I don’t think there are enough words to adequately express the gratitude I feel to have such amazing people around me. My coffee cup represents the warmth and comfort these people brought to me at my worst times, and the strength they gave me to find myself again.

Since finding myself again, I’ve also grown so much as a person, both personally and professionally. I now know how important ‘me time’ is, and how unselfish it is to say ‘no’ sometimes. I feel very blessed to have a job that I’m passionate about. I currently work supporting staff all over Greater Manchester who support some of the most vulnerable members of our society with ill mental health (alongside multiple and complex barriers). I feel lucky to be able to bring my lived and previous work experience into the role to give a real insight into mental health struggles, to help reduce stigma around ill mental health, train staff on complex conditions and promote good mental health and wellbeing practices within the workplace. My job now enables me to reach out and help thousands of people across Greater Manchester, by helping the staff who work with them on a one to one basis. I know that without my struggles, I wouldn’t be who I am today or be in the job I’m in. I love my job, and that I have the chance to help so many people. Above all else though, I’m starting to accept and love myself. I try to see a positive in myself every day, and although the cruel thoughts don’t leave me, and days are up and down, I’m getting there – slowly but surely.

If I had one piece of advice for someone struggling with ill mental health right now, it would be – Talk to someone you trust. Open up, it’ll be so worthwhile. I know the prospect seems terrifying now, but positive change often starts with uncertain and challenging times. Please remember – you matter. You’re important, even if you don’t always feel it. You deserve help, and deserve to feel better. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and confiding in someone you trust can be the first step in getting the right support too.

Jack’s Story

Jack Nolan's portrait. The Open Shutters Project by Lisa Marie Gee of Studio G Photography, Oldham.
Jack Nolan

Jack Nolan, a published author in his early twenties, tells his story to the Open Shutters project in the video below.



If you, or anyone you know, would like to take part in the Open Shutters Project, please email openshutters@studiog-oldham.co.uk. The project will be exhibited at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10, 2018. A book will be published to coincide with the exhibition.

Charlotte’s Story



My journey with mental health probably started a lot earlier than I care to admit. I know when it became apparent and when it truly affected me. But I didn’t listen to the warning signs. I didn’t talk.

I have always been and always will be a planner. Organised to the point of obsession, a perfectionist and a control freak. In 2012 when I lost control, I lost everything. I lost my purpose, my reason and my plan. I had always dreamed of becoming a teacher. Everything I had done in life was to support my goal. I had it all chosen; the course, the university, the school I would work at, the house, the marriage – the perfect life. The ‘5 year plan’.

However after 2 years of university – I had to admit I couldn’t do it, that it wasn’t for me. But how do you admit that you were wrong about your dream, about your life plan. How do you say to your family that you failed, that all the support they had provided was for no reason. I was the first person in my family to go to university and I had failed it.

This was the hardest thing I ever did – I struggled in silence. Shutting myself off from the world – comforting myself in my own denial. I struggled through, rejecting my own knowledge, pretending I was ok. Suffering in silence, crying myself to sleep. I had gone from having my life planned out, from being in control and having it outlined – to nothing. My whole purpose and existence crumbled in front of me; and I couldn’t stop it. I quit, moved back home with my mum and dad and shut myself away. For weeks I buried myself into bed, only surfacing for water to replenish stock for the tears landing on my pillow.

After 3 weeks, my Dad stood at the end of my bed and gave me the reality check I needed. Told me to get up, stand up and fight back. That is exactly what I did. I went back to planning ways. But this time started planning in smaller steps. Writing each goal down in my notepad. Goals started off as inviting a friend round, arranging to go for a coffee, and gradually built up. I built up to getting a part time job, getting a better job too gaining a career. Buying my first car, loosing weight, joining the gym, get a tattoo, saving for a house. I wrote them all down; all the small goals, the large goals and anything in between. Anything that was a milestone for me in my personal journey.

Without my goal setting I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t be in a happy and loving relationship, living in my own home, content. A new puppy and a baby on the way. I would still be hibernating in my own self pity. Now I am more determined than ever to succeed. I still panic when I am not in control, when I feel life slipping. But I have learnt to say it is OK. That I don’t have to be in control 100% – that actually it isn’t possible to be 100% in control. That I can’t protect everyone around me. But when I do have a bad day- I still have my notepad to look back at. I look back over all the pages and look at where I have come from, to where I am. I am confident I will never return to that point, but if I do, I know I can arise from the darkness of the ashes again, to spread my wings in the brightness of the flames of life.

But to anyone who is struggling, that does feel low, out of control or lost, talk to someone; I learnt the hard way – mental health isn’t a weakness; we all have breaking points some people’s are lower than others. Talking about how I felt earlier possible wouldn’t have prevented me from my depression or anxiety but I may have tackled it and acknowledged it earlier. However, I don’t regret it, my mental health doesn’t define me as a person; it is part of who I am and I don’t think I will be 100% ‘normal’ – I will always be a little bit ‘pyscho’ or ‘crazy’. My journey and battle made me stronger and hand on heart it made me a better person.