A west Cumbrian Musician has opened up on his experience living with paranoid schizophrenia and how re-kindling his relationship with music has helped find an identity in the community.

Richard Thomas, 39, from Cockermouth said more openness about mental health conditions like Schizophrenia is crucial to peoples' understanding and acceptance of it.

National Schizophrenia Awareness Day, which was held on July 25, aims to shine a light on the hundreds of thousands of people living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia across the country and beyond.

Richard, who has been living with schizophrenia since 2004, said he first noticed something wasn't quite right when he was halfway through university at Durham.

Putting it down to a great deal of stress, Richard said: "It was all getting too much for me.

"I had a bit of collapse. I didn't come out of my bedroom except for meals. My friends could see that I was ill, but they didn't know what was wrong with me.

"I was being sick, I was crying. I was in all sorts of trouble.

Richard had to quit during his third year in order to recuperate, but things took another turn after he started hallucinating and he was admitted to a mental health ward.

"It was a really weird and scary time for me because I'd never experienced anything like that before", he said.

"Some of the thoughts were bizarre. I thought there was a medieval knight was going to come and kill me.

"I was looking in the mirror, and all the people I knew from school kept appearing and disappearing. It was a really scary time."

Afterwards, Richard finally managed to complete his degree in Marine Biology at Cardiff University and moved to Cumbria.

Despite having another breakdown in 2010 and spending three weeks at the Carleton Clinic in Carlisle, he has since been taking medication and receives mental health support.

Richard added: "There's a lot less voices now than what there used to be.

"It's a process of trying to keep yourself happy and healthy, and trying not to care too much about the things you feel you have messed up in life.

"You just need to get on with your own life and try and get on with things."

Having once played in a band, Richard has rekindled his passions for playing music.

He said: "It gives me something to do and it's a productive outlet. It brings me a lot of pleasure just to know that I can play a few tunes on the guitar. It makes feel good about myself

"It makes me feel part of a community in some way.

"I hardly had any friends in the local area when I first arrived.

"I now know several people in the local area through music.

"It’s made me feel like I have more of an identity."

On schizophrenia awareness, he added: "No one wants to talk about it [schizophrenia].

"I never in a million years thought I would get schizophrenia and it was very scary when it happened. Any awareness of it among members of the public is a good thing.

"If you can observe someone who is beginning to get ill and if you can do something to help them then that’s a good thing."

For more information on psychosis and schizophrenia, visit the the British Psychological Society website at https://www.bps.org.uk/what-psychology/understanding-psychosis-and-schizophrenia.

Alternatively, you can visit the Understanding Voices website at https://understandingvoices.com/.

Check out Richard's music through his website, https://mintbiscuitsounds.com/, or find him on YouTube, Spotify and Amazon with the tag 'Mint Biscuit Sounds'.