Hannah's story: finding a space where people understand

May 2023

Hannah has been experiencing anxiety since childhood, which was exacerbated by having undiagnosed autism and ADHD. As a young adult, she sought help and has found connection and mutual support by going to social groups run by West Sussex Mind's youth mental health workers

I’ve been suffering from anxiety since I was 14 (I’m now 21). I began having panic attacks when I was in Year 9 and my anxiety continued to escalate as I progressed through school. I wasn’t coping well at school – I found it hard to make friends, to get close to people and to ‘fit in’.

Around this time, there were a lot of YouTubers who were starting to talk about struggling with anxiety – about what it was, what the symptoms were and about the reality of panic attacks – and that’s when I realised this was a problem for me.

In retrospect, having now been diagnosed with autism and ADHD, I recognise that some of these difficulties, in particular feeling frequently overwhelmed, were probably related to my autism too.

Autism definitely makes my anxiety more challenging. It means that I get anxious – and my anxiety escalates – more easily. I’m very sensitive to noise. I don’t really have social anxiety, but I’m not comfortable with crowds and I often get sensory overload in crowded places. I’ve even been known to go to the shops at 8am to avoid it being too crowded.

Five years ago, things got considerably worse for me when I began experiencing health anxiety – fear of becoming ill – and I stopped leaving the house. I felt depressed, I wasn’t functioning well – and I felt suicidal at times. I contacted Samaritans and they suggested that I get in touch with West Sussex Mind.

From one-to-one support to attending social groups

I had some one-to-one support with one of West Sussex Mind’s youth mental health workers. It helped having someone independent to talk to, who didn’t know me, and who didn’t have any preconceptions about my situation. I then got really overwhelmed again and shut myself off from everything, including West Sussex Mind. A year or so later, I started to reach out for support and got referred to my community mental health team, who suggested I seek help with West Sussex Mind again. So I started one-to-one support sessions and then I started getting involved in some of the social groups West Sussex Mind offers.

I was quite worried about doing this, because I was anxious about meeting new people and hadn’t had great experiences of peer support previously. But it ended up being okay. And for me, it really helped that it was on available on Zoom, because I wasn’t leaving the house.

Autism definitely makes my anxiety more challenging. It means that I get anxious – and my anxiety escalates – more easily. I’m very sensitive to noise. I’m not comfortable with crowds and I often get sensory overload in crowded places


I always go to the Friday drop-ins. We have a general check-in and chat at the beginning, play games and have a laugh. We might play online games, such as Gartic Phone, or have general knowledge quizzes or specialist quizzes about film and TV. I find that having that connection with others, while doing something focused, really helps me and helps me feel less isolated.

I’ve also done different workshops West Sussex Mind offers – around panic attacks, managing anxiety, catastrophising and resilience. I sometimes find it hard to focus on these, because of my ADHD, but it’s good quality information and I do sometimes pick up tips that can help.

What helps with my anxiety

For me, I find that distraction is a good tool for alleviating my anxiety. I’m a big fan of Lego kits and I like the focus it brings. It’s very mindful, focusing on one piece at a time, and one section of a model at a time – and it’s satisfying once it’s done.

I find my cat Rocky very helpful too. I find it very relaxing and therapeutic stroking him and being able to cosy up with him, especially when I am struggling. As he is nearly three, he is still quite playful and he can get a bit much sometimes. But it can be fun to play with him when I have the energy, which isn't that often at the moment, and the things he does are funny and cute sometimes.

I’ve also started going to the neurodiverse group run by West Sussex Mind. It’s helpful to be able to talk to other people, who have ADHD or autism, as there is a lot of mutual understanding. And I get satisfaction from being able to support others and share my perspectives. I’ve started following various autistic and neurodiverse influencers on Instagram, which helps me educate myself and understand myself better.

Anxiety is still a big thing for me. It’s a fact of my daily reality. But by getting support, I’ve been able to feel less alone and I’ve found a space where I can talk to other people who really understand, but aren’t medical professionals. That’s been really important to me.