A tormented teenager who almost died from anorexia has beaten her demons to become a figurehead for mental health issues – and is soon to meet the Duchess of Cambridge.
Lara Ferguson, 18, was bullied so badly on social media that she began to hear voices in her head telling her that her parents would die unless she starved herself.
She was eventually sectioned after she refused to eat anything but three foods – Snack a Jack rice cakes, plain porridge and carrot and swede mash – and was fed with a tube.
But after overcoming her battle she is due to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge along with Prince Harry for World Mental Health Day next month.
Lara Ferguson (pictured), 18, was so badly bullied on social media that she battled self-harm, depression and anorexia. She was sectioned three years ago, but now she is preparing to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for World Mental Health Day next month
Miss Ferguson, of Sheffield, was sectioned after she decided to only eat Snack a Jacks, porridge and mash
The sixth form pupil self-harmed as she battled anxiety and depression and made several attempts on her own life
After she was sectioned, she was discharged, but then her life ‘spiralled out of control’ and her weight dropped to just five and a half stone
Both William and Harry have talked about their own struggles to cope after the death of their mother, Princess Diana, in order to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.
The three royals are the faces of a new campaign, Heads Together, which aims to end the stigma around mental health struggles.
On World Mental Health Day on October 10 it will be three years to the day that Miss Ferguson was discharged from hospital and the first day back at work for Kate after being off royal duty with severe morning sickness.
Miss Ferguson, of Sheffield, said: ‘I am so excited.
‘Three years ago, I was in hospital and now I’m going to Buckingham Palace.
My parents are really proud of me. We are still in shock really.
Miss Ferguson is pictured in hospital with her mother Alison (right), 52, who along with the rest of her family has been her ‘rock’
They are coming down to London with me because they have never been there and I am going to show them the sights.’
The sixth form student lives in Sheffield with her mother Alison, 52, a primary school teacher, father, James, 52, and brother Euan, 13, who she describes as her ‘rock’ during her struggle with depression.
After being bullied at school, her anxiety grew, but she was not given any help by doctors, she explained: ‘I eventually opened up to my Mum, who made me an appointment with our GP.
‘But he completely belittled my struggles and put them down to hormonal changes.
‘I was sent away with just a website to look at – no follow-up appointment and no support.
‘That’s when I spiralled into a path of self-destruction.
Getting good results in her exams was what motivated Miss Ferguson (pictured) to make a recovery
Despite falling behind a year at school, the teenager got straight As in her AS Levels, despite medics saying she was too underweight to sit them in the first place
‘I began hearing voices in my head telling me not to eat or my parents would die, was self-harming and made several suicide attempts.
‘There were only three foods I would eat salt and vinegar Snack a Jacks, plain sachets of porridge and carrot and swede mash.
‘I haven’t eaten any of them since. The thought of them now just makes me feel sick.
‘After I stopped eating completely I was sectioned and tube fed.’
Miss Ferguson was admitted to Sheffield’s Becton Centre in May 2014 and discharged five months later.
But after she left, her weight plummeted by four stone.
She said: ‘After my discharge I developed anorexia.
‘It was horrific for both myself and my family. I faded as a person as my weight dropped by the day.
Miss Ferguson (pictured left) with her mother Alison (right), 52, of Sheffield, after she gained weight and set on the road to recovery
‘I was at my lowest weight just after I sat my AS levels. I weighed about five and a half stone. I felt awful.
‘It was 20 degrees outside but I was so freezing that I was wearing four layers of clothes.’
But sitting her school exams spurred the teenager on to beat her illness, helped by the fact she gained straight As and the support of her family.
Miss Ferguson says she cannot stop eating Reece’s Pieces, with her father constantly going out to the shops to buy more
She spends two days a week at school and the other three days at St George’s Hospital in Sheffield
In between her school work and hospital visits she is a member of the UK Youth Parliament
She had to drop back a year, but is now back at school twice a week, studying for her A Levels in psychology, sociology and government and politics.
This summer she got three As in her AS Levels, despite being advised by her eating disorder team that she was too underweight to sit them.
She is hoping to studying psychology at university next year.
On the other three days a week, she is a day patient at St George’s Hospital, Sheffield, which is encouraging her to get back to a healthy weight
She came off her medication three years ago, now weighs seven and a half stone and is on the road to recovery.
After deciding she wanted to help other young people battle her demons, she has become an advisor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists
The pupil said: ‘Once I had started gaining weight it was hard to accept my body.
‘But I soon realised that anorexia would never bring me happiness, only a life of pain, miserly and inevitably death.
‘Now I know that I am not only gaining back weight, but also life.
‘I am eating 3,000 calories a day and my favourite food is chocolate. I can’t get enough of Reece’s Pieces.
‘I reckon I’ve eaten more than eight kilos in the past four months.
‘I’m constantly sending my Dad out to buy some more. It’s costing him a fortune but I think he is just happy that I am eating.
‘I wouldn’t be where I am now without my parents’ support.’
Miss Ferguson (centre) is pictured with her mother Alison (right) and father James (left)
Miss Ferguson now feels comfortable enough in her own skin to try to help other youngsters battling their demons.
In between her hospital visits, she is a member of the UK Youth Parliament and an advisor for the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
She said: ‘I decided that I would make it my mission to raise awareness of mental health conditions in young people, and act as an advocate for those also suffering.
‘Since then my life has changed dramatically.
‘Despite still being a day patient, I am a member of Youth Parliament, where I campaign to raise awareness of mental health and ways in which to promote positive mental health.
Miss Ferguson will meet Kate, Harry and William as part of their Heads Together Campaign for World Mental Health Day on October 10
‘But most significantly 18 months ago, I become a national advisor for the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
‘Here I help advice of the structure of our national mental health services and design pathways which are later implemented by government.
‘Despite only being 18 I am working alongside some very high profile individuals from NHS England and the mental health sector.
‘Anorexia isn’t just about refusing food. It is really horrific mentally and has serious consequences for your body.
‘I have missed years of school and the effect on my life has been monumental.
‘Yet recovery is possible. I want everyone to know that despite having a mental illness, it is possible to achieve your dreams.’