real life

'I was struggling with my mental health. Then I received a handwritten letter.'

Abbie Williams understands what it feels like to be in a dark place. It's a reality so many of us know firsthand too.

On one particularly tough mental health day, Abbie read a letter she had received. It gave her warmth. A sense of belonging. A feeling that she was loved. She wasn't alone.

With that special feeling front of mind, she decided to put a post in her local neighbourhood Facebook group.

Then something incredible happened. 


For as long as she can remember, Abbie has considered herself an anxious person.

There are moments as far back as when she was around nine years old – feeling so worked up on a school trip that she was vomiting from the stress of being in an unfamiliar environment. Then there was navigating high school, which was a whole other kettle of fish. The worry was relentless.

"I often just put it down to being 'shy' or an 'overthinker'. I continued to try and push through, without much help or support. But that inevitably led to symptoms of depression. I would just beat myself up a lot, thinking 'Why can't I be different?'" she tells Mamamia.

Watch: What is self-care mental health literacy? Post continues below.

Video via YouTube. 

"I'd often spend long nights just cocooned in my blanket at home, struggling with my thoughts and feeling in a very, very dark place."

Sadly, Abbie's mental health only worsened after high school.

"When I went to university, the panic attacks got worse, as did my overall mental health when I found myself in the midst of a domestic violence relationship," she explains.

Fortunately, as the years went on, Abbie sought help. She was getting support through counselling, and was also prescribed medication via a GP. By the time Abbie was 21, she was looking forward to starting the next chapter of her life: she had decided to emigrate from the UK to Australia.

"Although I was a very anxious person still, I remember feeling a sense of frustration at all of the opportunities I had missed out on up until that point because of my mental illness. But this time, although I was terrified, something felt different. I knew I wanted a change of scenery, and so I took the leap."

And Abbie loved it here Down Under. But of course, feelings of loneliness and isolation can come with the territory soon after moving to a different country without your usual dependable network on hand. While navigating a new life in Australia, Abbie was writing often to her grandparents back home. It was a big source of comfort, but also gave her connection.


"Although I had free phone calls to the UK, my nana didn't really know how it worked. As a result, most of our contact was via handwritten letters, and I just loved how uplifting the whole experience was," says Abbie.

"First it was the anticipation – eagerly opening the mailbox and having something to look forward to. Then it was seeing the pen ink on the page, the care and thought behind it. And of course the words."

It turns out that writing a letter is also just as therapeutic as receiving one. It sparked a small seed in Abbie's mind, a seed that would later come into fruition. 

"I remember having a particularly bad mental health day and opening up a letter from my grandparents. I felt really uplifted, and I thought, 'Imagine if I could give this feeling to other people who are struggling?'"

Knowing the pain of feeling anxious, depressed and/or lonely, Abbie decided to write a post and share it in her local Facebook community group. She was open about her own mental health experience, set up an email address and asked those in her community to reach out if they wanted to receive a letter with some kind words. She never anticipated just how impactful that post would be. 

"I was very quickly inundated. It started very simply as just a nice thing to do. I wanted to make people feel less alone, and it was also really rewarding for me to channel my lived experience to try and support others," she says.

Just some of the thousands of letters that have been sent. Image: Instagram


A month after sending out her first batch of letters, Abbie received an email from a letter recipient. The woman had attached a photo of herself with this huge smile on her face, holding up her letter. The woman said she had barely left the house for weeks because of her depression. After opening her letter, the woman took herself out for a self-care day, leaving the house for the first time in weeks.

These stories kept flooding in.


Six years down the track, Abbie is still sending handwritten letters to people who are struggling to cope via her charity Letters of Hope.

"It's hard for me to put into words, really. I still pinch myself every day because I never believed that Letters of Hope would grow beyond being a passion project. When you are in a dark place, it can be easy to think that nobody cares, that the world is a dark place. But people do care."

Now Abbie, along with hundreds of volunteers, send countless letters to those who are doing it tough. Even though, in the scheme of things, a piece of paper with some words on it may not sound like much, sometimes all it takes is a thoughtful reminder that you're not alone. And with that comes hope.

"I wish with all my heart that I could tell teenage Abbie that those tough experiences would one day shape who she is, and that she would actually be proud of herself," she says.

"I still exchange letters with my nana and grandad. After a tough mental health day, it feels like a big hug from across the miles."

You can see more about Letters of Hope here.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 

Feature Image: Supplied.