About us

My name is Mark Russell, and I’m co-founder of the “Hope” initiative.  I’m father to 2 boys, one 22, the other 30, and also have 3 grandchildren.  I’ve had an interest in Mental Health matters for some years now, and am hoping to become an Independent Mental Health Advocate when I grow up.

My interest has now become an all-consuming passion since early 2013 as my partner and Co-Founder of “Hope” has had depression for some time now, and I’ve been with her during the last two breakdowns.  This has given me so much insight into the many difficulties that can be experienced during these times, not just for the person who has become ill, but also how this affects the family as a whole, including the daily struggle to deal with all aspects of home and family life during such times.  I spent a lot of time at the Becklin Centre (the main NHS Mental Health Unit to us here in Leeds) and was honoured to spend a lot of quality time with many of the patients there, sharing their various experiences and difficulties inherent within the Healthcare system as well as the major factors that made them ill in the first place.  These invaluable experiences were what helped me to formulate the idea we now have – seeing firsthand from so many sides how a lack of “Mental Wealth” can affect any one of us at any given time of stress in our lives, patients and Healthcare Staff alike.

Mental Health is often perceived (wrongly) as a series of conditions that someone is born with, and quite often I was very surprised to find that this view is actually a fallacy.  Many preventable factors seem to contribute to otherwise healthy people developing conditions due to social and financial stress.  These “conditions”are more often than not are naturally messed-up reactions to unnaturally messed-up situations.   When these stress factors are efficiently dealt with, these people often go on to lead normal and happy lives, and their illnesses are usually a temporary state which improves as the person receives help in dealing with the stress factors that made them ill in the first place.

I’m utterly committed to making our initiative work because I believe that many of these factors are extremely preventable at a much earlier stage, and all it takes is some empathy, understanding and practical advice.  With a little more preventative medicine in human surroundings, I firmly believe that our societal well-being can be greatly increased, and I sincerely hope that you agree.

You can follow me on Twitter @RedTigerMark


Hello lovely people.  I’m Sheryl Odlum – a 48 year-old mother of two (now 16 and 18 years-old) and co-founder of this idea.  Until falling ill with severe depression about 7 years ago, I had done quite well for myself – working in the City for about 15 years and as a teacher of English as an additional language for about 7, whilst living in Portugal with my young family.   I had fled Portugal after the breakdown of my marriage to a Portugeezer (‘scuse my cockney!) and had just breathed a sigh of relief the moment I felt we were secure and set-up over here,  when I woke up on a work-morning and found an elephant sitting on me!  Apart from looking after the basic needs of my children, I felt completely disabled by my depression and was unable to continue working – being off sick for the remainder of my contract as an admin assistant in a Leeds’ secondary school.

After the contract ended I roused myself enough to start a foundation degree at the University of Leeds to convert my qualifications and experience in teaching EAL in Portugal with a view to becoming a Teacher or Learning Mentor in a mainstream secondary school over here.  I relied on income support as a single parent to do this.  Everything was going swimmingly until the summer of 2010, when I studied the unit on curriculum and realised that we were still using one that was introduced over a 100 years ago! Teaching over here in the mainstream was nothing like what I was used to doing – with exams as the be-all and end-all and subjects all boxed in.  This coincided with not being entitled to income support any longer due to the lowering of children’s ages for entitlement of this benefit.  I was given the choice of continuing the course with no entitlement to benefits, or going on to job seekers and seeking work.

I opted for JSA and spent the next 9 months desperately trying to find some meaningful paid work – often applying for an array of roles within one day which bore little relation to the path I had so recently been set on taking.  I was soon stretched too far – job apps, juggling weekly income with monthly direct debits, growing own veg and trying to keep us all healthy even tho we relied on benefits.  This led to a complete nervous breakdown (losing all hope for our futures) and I spent over 3 months in the Becklin.  Upon discharge I worked with many support workers, but our struggles didn’t get much easier – mainly due to precarious shelter and an income which only allowed existence for us.

It’s now 3 years and 2 more crises on and I am landed with a shockingly severe case of bi-polar, which friends and family are supporting me through.  I am feeling safe again, but this time it seems sustainable – with services and appropriate benefits now in place and my determination for us all to thrive.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without feeling empowered to make appeals with knowledge offered by my peers and mentors, as well as national agencies such as Shelter or Turn2us.  It’s time to get on with sharing info and support in our communities now, as well as online.

follow me on Twitter @playnicely333


6 thoughts on “About us

  1. I have a personal interest in the vagaries of what we call mental health. My brother Matt who is 50 has, over the last 5 years suffered from crippling anxiety/ fears which impact on every aspect of every day life..I did a lot of research on mental health provision and realised that to access provision one needs to be quite proactive at a time when assertive action is not in one’s grasp..I know from my former workplace that the attitude to stress in the workplace is one of ‘manage your time better’…or lie about why you are off sick…Anyone who is off with stress has their card marked; no matter how much legislation is there to promote equality. I think what you have started is necessary and will be a positive step towards demystifying ‘mental illness’ while at the same time providing a forum for those rouched by mental illness and for the people around them

    1. Hi Robyn, I’m really sorry to hear that Matt’s been suffering so badly with anxiety, I know from firsthand and close quarters experience just how crippling it can be on nearly every aspect of everyday life.
      We are alas aware of global austerity measures causing a huge downturn in worldwide social morale, and with such a lack of empathy from most government and commissioning bodies, it means that we in future will have to look after eachother more and more if we’re ever going to recover well being for society in general.
      This in itself is no bad thing, and as a sense of community via preventative medicine and engendering self esteem and participation back into disadvantaged areas, we hope to rebuild a more empathic society, starting at grass roots community level.
      However, it’s sad that the ever – hardening circumstances in which the majority have to live in is the spur of this idea, not from a joyful agreement in an already enlightened society!

  2. Hi,
    our social mission is identical to yours! We have recently opened a new social hub in Leeds – http://www.happyrooms.org – and it would be great if you wanted to come along and see what we are trying to achieve within the community of Harehills.

    It is wonderful to see that there are like minded people like yourselves out there trying to support communities and tackle the social issues that matter!


    1. Hi Graham, sorry for my late reply, I’ve been rushed off my feet, and some interesting developments recently.
      I’ll know more next week, and will be blogging about it. Thanks for your kind words, and I think what you do’s brilliant!

  3. You are spot on. We need to talk more and we need to care more about others than we care about ourselves. Building Community capacity is about empowerment and a redistribution of professional power back to the experts who are the communities we serve. This project demonstrates real leadership and a willingness to work with others for the benifit of all. Developing a safe and happy space is what we try to do for children but we pay less attention to this as children grow into adults. We have so much to learn from each other and this requires people to commit to looking outside themselves with the intention of helping others. Well done.

    1. Hi Jo, thanks for your extremely kind and positive feedback, and as you’re NHS, I find that a real compliment!
      I hope that came out right, lol!
      What I mean is that I’ve seen firsthand how many of you in the NHS want to do it right, but actual NHS constraints themselves, plus mental health beds becoming at a real premium these days, it seem s almost nigh on impossible to give the right care to the service users, despite the best efforts of some key workers and support staff.
      Our intention is to provide “Perventative Medicine, to try to prevent the crises in the first instance, meaning that beds would be freed up, and people can actually be cared for in a more bespoke fashion, as is fitting for us all as individuals.
      In a wider sense, it also intends to encourage inclusion, engagement in some of our poorest communities, promotion of emapthy and understanding, and to help regenerate these areas, which have become a breeding ground for low expectations and severe mental health and dual diagnoses too.
      The implications could be as wide as society itself, and we’re applying for funding next week, so I’m happy to keep you up to speed.
      Again, many thanks indeed, Jo!

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