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Free diving: Parliament Hill woman's journey from chronic depression to taking on the world underwater

PUBLISHED: 10:00 14 June 2019

Helena Bourdillon is crowdfunding to take on the world at free diving. Picture: Simeon Quarrie

Helena Bourdillon is crowdfunding to take on the world at free diving. Picture: Simeon Quarrie

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Parliament Hill woman Helena Bourdillon spent much of her youth and young adulthood struggling with chronic depression.

Helena Bourdillon has fought chronic depression to become a world-class free diver. Picture: Simeon QuarrieHelena Bourdillon has fought chronic depression to become a world-class free diver. Picture: Simeon Quarrie

Now, age 45, the former jeweller is crowdfunding so that she can fund taking part in this year's World Free Diving Championships in France.

Free diving is an extreme sport which sees brave competitors dive in some cases hundreds of metres under water without breathing apparatus.

It requires huge safety precautions and has a dark reputation - though Helena said this was unearned.

The former Channing School pupil got into the sport aged 39 - "it's never too late," she said - and she explained it had helped her to build up her mental health.

Helena told this newspaper she tried free diving, and was hooked. She said: "It's peaceful it's quiet, it's beautiful. You're not wearing all of this equipment so underwater creatures are not scared of you, you can just hang out with them.

"I've always been quite competitive, and I wanted to see if I could be very good at it."

She added that the sport had also proved a boon for her mental health, saying: "The skills that I've learned - slowing my breathing, relaxing my body - they're things that are also good for mental health.

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"I can never see myself suffering from depression again because of the things I have in place now and the knowledge that I have - I've done an awful lot of therapy, and I'd really recommend it."

Helena reached her lowest point 19 years ago, she said, but is thankful that she "had the courage to reach out".

"I was in a very bad place," she said. "I self-harmed and I was planning my own suicide. I was preparing.

"It started when I was about 11, but the depressive episodes got significantly more frequent, and closer together over many many years."

After her immediate mental health crisis passed, she started a business creating jewellery for burlesque dancers, while continuing to see therapists.

Now, alongside training as a free diver, she speaks in schools and businesses about mental health and her own story.

Having been selected in the British free diving team for the competition in Nice autumn, Helena's keen to work with local people and businesses. She said: "I am fully self funded and the sport is not "free" from cost like the name suggests..."

Helena's crowdfunder is available here justgiving.com/crowdfunding/helena-bourdillon.

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