WHEN single mum Jess Gallier lost her beloved dad to suicide in February this year her world began to crumble.
A determined businesswoman, she threw herself further into work in an effort to keep her mind occupied, but soon realised it was doing her more harm than good.
She then took the boldest step of her life; she quit her job as business development manager for a Chester restaurant and began renovating old furniture in her front room.
It allowed her to relax and reminded her of painting as a child with her dad Martin, who was a talented carpenter.
For 27-year-old Jess it was an epiphany that made her realise she could begin her own healing process while channelling her father's memory into something positive.
“It was like a lightbulb moment,” she said. “I could make something totally broken new again and I realised that’s what I needed to do to myself too.
“It really restored my faith and reminded me of the need to look after yourself and be kind to yourself.”
From then on, she vowed to be open about her own battle with grief, depression and anxiety and registered a new furniture business, Gallier House.
She also wanted to do as much as possible to raise awareness of mental health issues and strip away the stigma that surrounds them.
Her community of Port Sunlight, Wirral, rallied around her, listening to her story and helping her amass a treasure trove of old items ripe for magical transformation.
So far, she has created at least 30 new items and splits 10 per cent of all proceeds between mental health support charities Suicide Crisis and MIND.
She has her heart set on opening a shop within a year and also plans to start workshops that allow people with mental health issues to come in for a chat and work on furniture.
Speaking to The Standard about her journey, Jess said her father’s death at the age of just 55 had come as a bombshell.
He had suffered with mental health issues for much of his life, turning to alcohol from a young age and ending up homeless, living in his car.
“He was of the generation when men didn’t talk about things like that,” said Jess, who lives on Bebington Road. “A man is a man and they don’t talk about things they are struggling with.
“He got himself to a point where he didn’t have a way of turning back. The alcohol had become bigger than him.”
He was admitted to hospital numerous times in the month before his death.
“In early February this year he had obviously had enough, it all became too much and he took his own life,” Jess said.
“We knew it was a possibility but it’s something you can’t ever be prepared for. It’s such a brutal, abrupt end. There are so many unanswered questions.”
A tortuous inquest process then began at the coroner’s court in Gloucestershire, where Martin was living, which piled further pressure on Jess and her family.
“After my dad’s death I threw myself back into work,” she said. “I soon realised I was doing myself a lot of harm. I was massively depressed and anxious and really struggling but I wouldn’t admit it.”
She eventually went to her doctor only to be told she couldn’t be referred for counselling until six months after her dad’s death.
Instead she came away with antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication, and was left to find her own therapy.
“I got to the point where I was breaking my back and trying to bring up my baby, Leo,” she said. “I started doing up some furniture as a way of relaxing and found I really enjoyed it. I always used to paint with my dad so it became therapeutic.”
Then came the decision to scale back her entire life, quit her job, and start from scratch.
“I’ve worked since I was 14 years old and have always thrown myself into work so to give it up was terrifying,” said Jess.
She and Leo, who is 13 months old, took a trip to Marrakesh in Morocco where she bought fabric for her first renovated footstool.
Back in the UK she then maxed out a credit card on second hand furniture in a charity shop and set to work.
“It’s just gone from strength to strength,” Jess said. “Everyone has been absolutely fantastic. I’ve had lots of support from the community.
“People listen to the story behind the business, there’s nothing false or fabricated about it. My heart is on my sleeve. It’s great to go out and raise some awareness.”
She hopes to have her mental health workshops up and running within five years.
“A lot can be solved with a cup of tea, a biscuit and a chat,” she said. “The big problem is people are unwilling to talk about the way they feel. Now I’m so open and honest.
“If you knew my dad you would never know he was suffering. He was Martin Gallier, the funny guy in the pub. There is massive pressure on men, especially of a certain age, to be men and not let any weakness show through. It’s no wonder suicide is the biggest killer of middle-aged men.”
She added: “I don’t want my son to grow up in a world where he can’t discuss the way he feels. This year has shown me that life is too short to do anything that makes you unhappy.”
See full story in the Chester Leader