Norwich self-help group helps take the loneliness away for those with anxiety and depression

Mental Health Campaign. Matthew Thornton leading the group The Way Out Society Charing Cross Centr

Mental Health Campaign. Matthew Thornton leading the group The Way Out Society Charing Cross Centre, Norwich for people who suffer from anxiety. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

Being able to go out with friends for a meal and drinks is something most people don't think twice about. But for those who suffer with anxiety, it can be a major problem – having to make sure they know where the exits are, finding it hard to eat in front of people and having nervous thoughts.

This was one of the problems discussed by a member of The Way Out Society, a Norwich-based self-help support group for those who have anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Those who use the service say it is a 'fabulous resource' but with only five regular members, there are fears it may have to stop running.

The group was founded in September 1976 by the late Norma Patchett, who had suffered from agoraphobia, so she could meet people, discuss their problems and share experiences.

There were once 30 to 40 members but numbers have slowly declined over the years.

Funds are not a problem for the group as Ms Patchett had successfully fundraised, but volunteer secretary and member Matthew Thornton says he can't see why numbers are so low.

He said: 'We'd rather give the money to a mental health charity like Mind if it continues, rather than pay to rent a room.

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'A group like this takes the loneliness away. You can't beat speaking to people face to face. We all share our experiences and talk about day-to-day things.

'We want to make it more social so people gel and connect and then come back. It seems a lot of people

use forums to talk about their problems.

'But more people are coming out now and talking about their problems and celebrities like Stephen Fry opening up also helps.'

Mr Thornton, from Long Stratton, has suffered from depression,

anxiety and panic attacks since he was 13.

The 28-year-old, an admin worker for the charity Equal Lives, has said everybody has been understanding and supportive of his condition but it has left him frustrated.

He said: 'There are things I've been able to do such as speeches and flying lessons but then walking into an office could be terrifying and I'd run out.

'It's incredibly frustrating. Funeral arranging is my passion and I was working in it and even though I was receiving good feedback the anxiety was building up. I thought, 'if I couldn't do something I love, what can I do?'

Mr Thornton has said therapy, medication and attending The Way Out Society has helped him feel the best he has felt.

'One day in 2005, I panicked going to work and ran home. I sat outside in the rain for hours, it was such a low moment.

'I'm now a thousand times better than I was, which I hope shows you can go out and have friends and socialise.

'You can't see the light at the end of the tunnel but if you keep walking you will find it.'

Our Mental Health Watch campaign was launched in October 2015.

Its aims are to reduce the stigma around mental health issues, raise awareness as well as campaign for improved services in Norfolk and Suffolk.

The Way Out Society meets every two weeks from 7.30pm to 9pm at the Charing Cross Centre in Norwich.

For more information email, visit thewayoutsocietynorwich on Facebook or call 07599 930177.