How online counselling saved this mother's life: 'I was looking up ways to die at the time'
An American woman has told how an online counselling service based in Ireland stopped her from taking her own life.
Mother-of-three Leianna Schreiber (51) was suffering from depression, had been living in the confines of her room for three years and was "looking up ways to die" when she came across a mental health volunteer page on Facebook.
Leianna, who lives in Oregon in the United States, reached out to one of the volunteers and felt an instant connection with the woman who responded.
"When I first met her online, I had been living in my room for about three years, had major depression, anxiety, bulimia, I was [self-harming] myself...I wasn’t able to work. I had a lot of childhood trauma, abuse and rape particularly, and after working with her, I have a full-time job, I don't have bulimia, I’m not using substances, I’m not drinking any more," she told Independent.ie.
Previous attempts at face-to-face therapy didn't work for Leianna.
She said being able to talk to someone who lived in a different country over Skype made a significant difference.
"I think it was easier having someone who was not in my area. People who have been through a lot or who are suffering, they feel so much shame and guilt which makes it worse, but now I know these feelings can be healed."
Leianna said Mary McHugh, the woman who helped her, "taught her how to live again."
Mary now runs the Irish Online Counselling & Psychotherapy Service and provides counselling to people all over the world.
"The thing about online counselling was, even though we couldn’t see each other, we connected easily and the trust was built quickly. It was so much easier than going to counselling physically," Leianna said.
She refers to Mary as both a "life coach" and a "hero," but said she wasn't the only person who helped her through.
"My husband was my rock throughout. He is so lovely, but all of those years when I was so sick with depression...he never condemned me, he never said why aren’t you bringing in income, why aren’t you doing the dishes. He is my other hero, along with Mary."
Leianna said she is now the happiest she's ever been.
She works as a special needs assistant and is thriving in a role where she can help others.
Her main piece of advice to anyone suffering from mental health issues is to consider online therapy - because it helped save her life.
"I would say don’t give up, please give online counselling a chance. Your therapist will meet you exactly where you are, will not judge you and will give you the privacy that you need."
Speaking to Independent.ie, Mary McHugh is hoping that her online service will continue to make a difference.
She set up the site in 2011 and has helped people in Japan, Germany, France and the US.
"We were going into unchartered territory, so only last year did we bring on more therapists to join us. We are at the stage now where we feel confident enough that we can make a significant impact in the lives of others.
"We aim to meet face-to-face to help people after the online counselling so we can give people the courage to overcome their anxieties."
The trained psychotherapist praised Leianna for how she battled to overcome her problems. Their therapy sessions began in 2009, and in 2017, both are grateful that they crossed paths.
"She's doing great now, and that's fantastic to see."
If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, you can also contact the Samaritans on 0845 790 9090 or Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.