Firefighter who faced mental health battle after traumatic lifesaving attempt backs therapy centre plan

By Hannah Graham

A firefighter who had "one too many traumatic experiences" has backed a bid to open a ground-breaking mental health centre in Northumberland.

Daniel McManus, a watch manager for County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, now offers his services to support the mental health of his colleagues as they cope with the rigours of an immensely stressful job.

But five years ago, the father-of-two battled with his own mental health as he struggled to overcome the trauma of witnessing a tragic death.

Read more: Go here for more stories about mental health from around the North East

It was psychotherapy, with Forest Hall-based psychotherapist Sara Young, which helped Daniel begin to heal, and now he's backing Sara's plan to launch a mental health centre offering pioneering therapies to the North East.

Daniel, from North Shields, said: “We were first on the scene and administered life saving CPR that I continued in the ambulance all the way to the hospital, where shortly after arrival she was unfortunately pronounced dead.

“I’m not sure why this incident impacted on me more than others, most likely it was just one too many traumatic experiences, the last straw.

“I went back to the station and had a cup of tea feeling completely numb. After this I felt lost and without empathy or sympathy; I was on the run. I didn’t want to be in a similar situation again. This went on for months.

“I was lucky and my changed behaviour was noticed by my family. I became withdrawn, moody, I isolated myself at work away from the main group and self sabotaged my free time by no longer watching sport or taking part in other pastimes or hobbies I enjoyed.”

But working through Sara helped Daniel to find a way out. He’s now channelled his experience of therapy and recovery and works as a part of the fire services' volunteer trauma support team.

“The therapy I received has enabled me to understand that not talking about these things is not an option. This is exactly where I had got to when I first came to Sara," he said.

“And it is this that I try to pass on to my colleagues who experience similar routine trauma. It is not weakness to talk about these experiences.”

Firefighter Daniel McManus, with his wife (Changing Minds with Pick Up a Penny)

Through her social enterprise, Changing Minds with Pick up a Penny CIC, Sara has made significant strides on plans to open a new centre for adults and children in Cramlington, to help those struggling to access mental health care on the NHS. Eventually, she wants to create a network of mental health centres offering a broad church of pioneering psychotherapy techniques such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing), Neuro Feedback, and integrative psychotherapy, alongside space for training and support for mental health professionals.

Thanks to an anonymous donation, she's already raised the £90,000 needed for a deposit on land which Northumberland County Council has indicated could be used for the centre, while Forterra, one of the UK’s biggest brick manufacturers, has offered free building materials for the new centre.

She's continuing to seek grants and public donations to collect the rest of the £3.7m needed to build the first centre. And Daniel says he hopes to see the fundraising efforts succeed.

“Maintaining good mental health and wellbeing is increasingly recognised as a crucial part of any workplace, particularly when experiencing trauma and traumatic situations is routine, as in my case in the fire service," he said.

“Changing Mind’s With Pick Up A Penny recognised this and provided me with a route out from a very dark place. There is a real need for the support that Changing Minds provides for people of all ages, especially now following such a prolonged and traumatic global event as the pandemic.”

Sara said: “I am really delighted with the support for the centre, which could alleviate pressure on our already overstretched mental health service and change the model throughout the UK with a bottom-up approach.

"We set up this social enterprise to offer an alternative mental health service for people of all ages. Mental health covers a plethora of presenting issues and I believe in an integrative approach.

“Our work often comes from people needing to engage at crisis point, when other services have either let them down, or not provided the therapy that the individual needs. Often in more male-dominated environments there can be issues with communicating, with emotions bottled up, which is particularly adverse when combined with trauma.”

To find out more about the mental health centre visit https://www.changingmindswithpickupapenny.co.uk/our-centres

  • To speak confidentially with volunteers about suicide or other issues, you can call Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

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