COUNSELLOR, therapist and mother of two Jessy Paston greets me with a broad smile. Her open-hearted warmth is palpable.

It would be easy to assume this is part of the job but, in this case, it is obviously part of the person.

The 40-year-old lives in Droitwich and almost wandered into this type of work by chance as she followed her own path of discovery while tackling mental health issues.

Learning that she first suffered from depression at the age of 11 seems implausible. She is happy, enjoys life, is passionate about her work, clearly loves her family and is whole-heartedly enthusiastic about the prospect of learning more about wellbeing in order to help others.

She currently works from home, visits clients in their own homes and has just started working from the Wishing Well Centre in Bromsgrove. She has international clients in Canada, Switzerland and Mauritius who have consultations via Skype.

Jessy was born in Africa to Indian parents but started suffering from depression at an early age, leading on to self-harm and a suicide attempt as a teenager.

She moved to England when she was 16 and met her husband-to-be Ian, who she describes as her “rock”, a year later. In fact it was a common interest – photography which she now uses as part of her therapy - that partly brought them together.

By the age of 19 she was married and two year later she gave birth to their first child Anisha. But Jessy found the birth a harrowing experience.

“I was in labour but the staff at the hospital could not find a heartbeat. It was completely traumatic. The midwife care was fantastic but, because I was 21, I was treated by others like I knew nothing.

“It felt very scary and because I was young, I did not know what was going on. Then I struggled with a new born and I was 10 to 15 years younger than others attending the postnatal group.

“It took a long time for my husband to persuade me to have another child.” Jessy had postnatal depression but she admits she hid it well and it was not picked up by anyone.

Three years later she had her second child Daniel and suffered from mental health issues during the pregnancy and afterwards. “I had an adverse effect from that pregnancy for about eight years,” she said. Jessy added that she still experiences depression but she can manage it now.

“Motherhood is one of the biggest changes you can experience in your lifetime, and with it comes complex and conflicting emotions. You face a new identity, new responsibilities and a new way of life.

“As I discovered myself when I had my children, that can be hugely overwhelming, even with your very best efforts and when the children are older. Yet I found it very difficult to access suitable support.”

Her interest in becoming a counsellor and therapist started when she was being bullied at work and her brother-in-law was diagnosed with bowel cancer and given six weeks to live.

“It made me think about life. I became a Samaritans Listener and I came to realize that helping other people was helping me, so I went on to do a counselling course.” She also volunteered as a mental health support worker and Cruse Bereavement volunteer.

In order to cope with her own postnatal depression she took thousands of photographs to help her remember the missing memories of her children’s early lives. She then set up her own photography business.

“I had always been mad on photography - it was a hobby of mine - and I thought I would set up my own business.”

She said her customers would talk to her about themselves and she found that taking pictures could help them.

Jessy explained that women experiencing postnatal depression often fail to see and remember certain stages of their child’s development and by taking lots of pictures of babies, which a mum could look at later, could help with the depression.

“I could not remember Daniel’s early stages but the photographs of him were very powerful. Photographs helped me with my postnatal depression.”

She said other people would come for a photoshoot but might be self-conscious of their bodies. She would start by taking photos of their bellies after they had given birth and they would gradually become more confident. There were also women who had undergone mastectomies and, Jessy said, the photography also help them.

Jessy said: “Therapeutic photography is quite a new idea, but the results can be effective. It can help us heal, and explore who we really are. It’s beautifully simple but a very powerful process.”

Jessy’s concept involves each client being given bespoke photo assignments tailored to their needs, helping them explore feelings in more depth.

“The idea works in a safe way which is enlightening but not overwhelming,” she said. “Photo assignments can consist of clients taking their own photos, such as things they are grateful for in their lives, or creating a self-portrait to use in sessions.

“Clients can look at old family photos to discover more about themselves, their relationships and connections. Or they can have photos taken of them in a safe, therapy session environment, helping them see themselves differently and be part of the process of being photographed.”

As an individual who has “been there herself”, she is passionate about helping people with mental health issues. “We need more people trained in mental health issues. Depression is just like a physical illness. There is nothing to be scared about. If you had a broken leg you would look after it. We are not in isolation and there is a process to making your life better.”

National Childbirth Trust factfile

According to the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) depression is a major public health concern and postnatal depression is very common. Without treatment it can have detrimental effects on the relationship between mother and baby and partner.

In September this year the NCT launched its #HiddenHalf Campaign to raise awareness about mums whose mental health conditions often go unnoticed.

• A recent NCT survey found around half of new mothers’ mental health problems do not get picked up by a health professional.

• The goal of the #HiddenHalf Campaign is to improve the six-week check, which is one of the key opportunities to uncover postnatal mental health hidden problems. It also aims to encourage women in seeking help, with NCT developing resources to support this.

• The campaign is also calling for all new mothers to get a full appointment for the maternal six-week check. Most importantly, this should include a supportive conversation about mental health.