As the oldest child of a large family growing up in North Africa, Aicha* had been expected to be strong, look after younger children, cook and clean without complaining or asking questions.

Now in her mid-50s, single-handedly caring for two teenage daughters, she retains that sense of having to cope at all costs, despite living with a “rollercoaster” of depression.

“Home life was like a military regime,” she said. “Mum was very loving but very strict.

“Being the eldest, I had to pay the price for whoever made the mistake or not being vigilant while she wasn’t around.”

Suffer in silence

As Aicha grew older, depression became part of life. She knew it was there but didn’t know what to do about it and felt that culturally, she was expected to “suffer in silence”.

“I come from a Muslim background where you keep things to yourself,” she said. “They shouldn’t go outside the family home. It is important not be judged and this added to a sense of shame.”

Aicha did go to her GP and was prescribed anti-depressants.

Counselling wasn’t suggested to her initially, but after a move from London to the north of England, Aicha’s new GP suggested that she contact a local counselling service.

Reluctant at first, and worried about being judged, Aicha eventually took the plunge and made an appointment.

Aicha’s first impressions of the counselling service, which we are not naming to protect her anonymity, were good and she was particularly reassured by the confidentiality offered by the service.

Safe place

“It’s a safe place to go to,” she said. “I felt completely free to say whatever I wanted, knowing that it wouldn’t leave the room, that it was between me and my counsellor.”

Glad now that she followed up on her GP’s suggestion, Aicha feels that counselling has been “healing” and that it has a allowed her to “detangle some of my issues”, the events and problems from her past that trouble her.

It’s also given her a new and positive sense of her own identity.

“Counselling has helped me on my journey to understand myself better and understand my mental health,” she said. “I’d recommend it to anyone.”

We are sharing Aicha’s story as part of the UN’s International Day of Older Persons, and this year’s theme is Journey to Age Equality.

Jeremy Bacon, our Older People Lead, said: “We’re grateful to Aicha for sharing her story of how counselling helped her on her road to recovery and hope that it encourages others to consider counselling.

“Depression and low mood aren’t inevitable as we get older and, as Aicha’s story shows, counselling can be really effective in supporting wellbeing.”

If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, or would like to talk to a BACP therapist, see our Find a Therapist Directory.

*Not her real name