Last year on Time To Talk day I created a post full of wonderful stories from different people about why it was good for them to talk about their mental health.
Many of you will be aware of how much I adore Time To Change and what an impact working for them has had on my life. I think this day is a fantastic idea and I like to try and be a part of it if I can. This year, the theme is about ‘ingredients’ that contribute to a mental health conversation. With that in mind, I decided I wanted to ask questions to some of the wonderful mental health advocates out there and create a post made up of the responses. It seems fitting to me that my posts on these topics are made of collective voices and experiences rather than just mine, so I put out a request on Twitter for help from you guys and I had some amazing responses.
Why did you become an advocate?
@RenjiPls: As I got older, I started reaching out & speaking to more & more people about my mental health. I realised that the more I spoke about it, not only did I find myself relating to other people & vice versa but the more I began to learn about myself, my own triggers & my habits both good & bad. I came back to songwriting after a number of years away from it & I found myself tackling deeper & darker topics I had prior to opening up. There was a massive vulnerability there originally but the more I wrote & the more I spoke, the easier the two became. For me, they go hand in hand.
@ZoeDonna95: Because I live with depression and anxiety, and I felt like the only person in the world who had it because I was too scared to talk about it. I found a community on Twitter and it grew from there. There is so much to gain from talking about our mental health.
@MEbirdclassABQ: I have been an advocate of some sort for as long as I can remember. I love to see people realise their full potential. I know what it’s like to feel awful & I think we all feel less alienated from existence when we share.
@good_shit_daily: I became an advocate because I want to be the mom for my daughter I never had, the friend I never had, the partner I never had. I wanted to use my illness as a source of power and show others it was possible.
@_sommer_rose_: I became an advocate because I felt like I had two options: bury my pain and my story and live with these awful secrets or take my story and hopefully do some good with it.
@ohmycarling: When I was last inpatient, the psychiatrist told me I might have schizoaffective disorder, and as I visibly panicked, she told me that if I kept holding on to that stigma, I would have a really hard time getting better. So I made a pledge to/for myself to practice radical honesty, and I’m so glad I did.
@mommitude: After my nephew died by suicide, I felt I had to make a change at work so I started looking and found a job answering a mental health crisis line. It was the toughest, most rewarding job.
@katieconibear: I became an advocate because of the stigma I’ve faced living with bipolar and psychosis. I wanted to start more conversations about these illnesses, and hopefully create a safe place where people could open up.
@itsnotmelony: I became an advocate after my diagnosis of ADHD. Despite always trying to help fight for mental health stigmas to end, my ADHD diagnosis prompted me to speak out more when I saw how little help there was for ADHD patients and how it’s sometimes not realised the impact ADHD, especially undiagnosed, can have on our mental health.
What has been the most rewarding part of sharing your story?
@ZoeDonna95: Since starting my blog in late 2017, I’ve had comments and emails from people saying that I’ve described their situation perfectly, and that my posts have really helped them realise they’re not alone. That means so much to me because I used to feel like that, too.
@asafemind: The most rewarding part has been showing people that psychotic illnesses don’t make people dangerous, as it has helped others understand better.
@ohmycarling: Bar none, the people who have reached out to me and told me how much my honesty has helped them. It’s an amazing feeling, knowing you’ve made someone feel less alone.
@maryhas92828575: The most rewarding part of sharing my story is when I see that others relate to it and that my story affects them(in a good way). To the xtent that some are even willing to share.
@Scooty413: Helping my family. My son’s know they can talk to me about anything and often we chat about our MH which is really rewarding and helps and the stigma
@JohnLilywhite: The most rewarding part of sharing my story has been being inspired to write a screenplay that is being made into a feature film that tackles the issues of teen bullying, domestic abuse, mental illness, homelessness & drug & alcohol addiction. Crucially all of these things are strongly linked to mental health issues.
@abrightercloud: I love having comments back about how other people have felt the same, it makes me feel like I’m not the loner I always thought I was
@cordeliamoor_: When people have left comments saying that something I’ve written has changed their mind, or that they didn’t know about a particular aspect of mental health, or that they’ve come away from reading my post with more understanding and compassion.
@purrlsofwisdom: The fact it has been welcomed. It has helped me change my way of thinking and the patterns of thinking I have had. what I mean by that is part of my mental ill health is that I have an inner voice that criticises me and makes me believe that I’m not valued. So by pushing myself to share my story I have now been encouraged too believe that this is not true and that I am valued and that I do count, because the reaction to my experiences that I have shared has been overwhelmingly positive.
@strengthinkind: Sharing my experiences and hearing from others about their struggles. I don’t get a lot of comments or feedback but when I do it’s amazing. Just knowing I’ve helped a little in someone else’s recovery is brilliant.
What has been your proudest moment in your advocacy?
@ZoeDonna95: I attended a mental health bloggers meet up in January 2018. I finally got to meet other people in my community doing amazing work to break down the stigma of mental health, and meeting a bunch of new people all at once was so far out of my comfort zone – which is why I knew I had to do it.
@MEbirdclassABQ: I am proud of myself for keeping on going, even when it’s hard, & even when I’m not all that sure I want to.
@asafemind: My proudest moment has been when people have chosen to speak to me for advice on getting help.
@HappyMentality: My proudest moment has been helping those who need it in that moment & also being published by The Mighty.
@TSIGolden: Speaking about my own struggles at the Edinburgh International Culture Summit to a roomful of strangers!
@Scooty413: I won the North East Equality Award for the individual who had made the most difference a couple of years ago (& came 2nd in the national equality awards for employee of the year.
@rebekahdussek: Being on Victoria Derbyshire in June 2018 which I got to do through being a student minds press ambassador, or being invited to facilitate a session at the first Global Mental Health Summit in October.
@pjshaw192: Being able to do things I never expected I could, including sharing my story! I’ve never been a confident person who’s able to speak in public so standing in front of an audience and talking about my mental health history twice were particularly proud moments for me. Equally proud though has been how my mum reacted when I showed her an email that Time to Change had sent round with my story on it. She is always so supportive and proud but hasn’t always known how best to help me, so hearing her talk about how proud she was of me being open and honest was a special moment.
@itsnotmelony: Being a finalist in the UK Blog Awards for the mental health category. The voices of people (mainly women) with ADHD don’t get heard as loud as people with other mental health conditions and learning difficulties so to have been recognised and supported to that point was amazing. I also think my psychiatrist calling me “a bit of a spokesperson for ADHD” was a proud moment- I have a lot of respect for him as a very good clinician so that praise meant a lot, particularly when it’s his area of special interest.
@OneMoreLightLB: The first piece I ever wrote was shared by Anna Shinoda which was technically before any advocacy actually started but I do consider that the start of everything and it was amazing!
What would you say to others who are considering publicly sharing their story?
@ZoeDonna95: Do it! In my experience, only about 1% of the reactions I’ve received has been backlash, and you just block them and move on. Suffering alone is absolutely the worst thing you can do, your illness wants you to feel like nobody understands, but they do
@asafemind: Sharing your story can bring lots of positive responses and can really help others out, however you should only share as much as you’re comfortable with.
@HappyMentality: I would say always be honest. And protect yourself. Make sure you’re comfortable in what you’re sharing.
@good_shit_daily: Do it. Don’t wait until you have the right words. Don’t wait until you are ready. You’ll never be. If you feel like you have something g to say, say it. Do it for YOU and no one else. Also, if you don’t want to share that’s absolutely okay. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong.
@TSIGolden: To only do it if they really want to. I think there is pressure to speak so publicly and openly about mental illness, and so I would say to only share your story when you are ready.
@PeterAshley76: I’d say do it. It was the best thing I ever did. The support I got from friends and strangers was overwhelming. It also allowed others to open up that they had been struggling. It was one of the biggest things for me in terms of recovery. It took me from being ok, to being really good.
@ohmycarling: Do it! It’s really freeing and it really helps others. But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t, for whatever reason – it might not feel safe, or it may make you very anxious, or whatever else – your safety, recovery, health is the most important thing.
@Scooty413: Do it. Unless people share their stories, others don’t realise that they are not alone. We have to end the stigma and know we can win in the fight.
@cordeliamoor_: Sit with the fear, work out what you’re comfortable sharing right now (because it’ll probably change the more you speak out), and just do it. The more voices we have in this space, the more people begin to take notice and change starts to happen. And if it turns out that you end up not being comfortable with it, you don’t have to say anything more.
@purrlsofwisdom: I would say to just do it and not overthink it. I compare it with that time in the summer where I jumped in the sea off the top of a boat; I hate heights but I overthought it so much I looked so scared in the video of it looking back. The more people share their stories the more awareness is raised and more attitudes are changed. The more this happens, then it is in the public consciousness and thus hopefully the government will get their backside in gear and make mental ill health a priority, to get more nurses, crisis workers to ensure the right diagnoses happened and waiting lists are reduced. Then again, I also understand that some people are not ready to share which is why it is important for those who are ready to share their experiences to share them so that it encourages others to be safe and comfortable to do the same.
@pjshaw192: I would say make sure you are only doing as much as you want to. It’s your story at the end of day and no-one else can dictate what you should put in or leave out, and only share as much as you are comfortable with. Your health is important and if you feel like leaving certain parts of your story out then that’s perfectly fine. There’s no shame in that and nobody has ever felt confident sharing things like mental health so you won’t be alone in being nervous. I would also say, talk to organisations like Time to Change about sharing your story as they have tips and can give you guidance around sharing it.
@OneMoreLightLB: You don’t owe your story to anybody and you don’t need to share it publicly for your experience to be valid. Share it because you want to, not because you think you need to and only share what you feel comfortable with. If you do, you’ll find so many wonderful people and support
What would you like to achieve in the future with your advocacy?
@SDianaax: I’d like to go into schools and talk to kids about mental health as I wasn’t taught about mental health back in 2009 and I didn’t know the signs of my illnesses.
@HappyMentality: I would like to publish my story with eating disorders so that people going through that can understand how it starts and know where to get help. I would also like to create a mental health journal that people can use to help themselves.
@good_shit_daily: I want to just live as an example that recovery from a suicide attempt/anxiety/depression is not linear. I want to change the mindsets of people who say things like “Wow, she’s crazy.” I want to set a standard of being curious about mental health. I also want to show those who are feeling suicidal that it might not ever go away, but you can keep going.
@PeterAshley76: For it to just be the norm that people, men especially talk about their mental health. I had a friend who took his own life in 2017 who had kept it all in and talked to nobody. I want that to be a thing a of the past.
@joninicholls1: To help as many people as possible work through their issues. Everyone is different
@cordeliamoor_: I’d like to change how older teenagers and young adults are treated within the NHS mental health services, because that’s really where the damage was done for me. I’d like to speak in person more about it at schools in particular, and really help positive change happen for those who need it most. And I’d like to write a book. Small goals?
@katieconibear: I’d like to raise more awareness of psychosis, which is still a very stigmatised and misunderstood illness. I‘ve just started a podcast dedicated to this and hope to reach as many people as possible!
@iangarnett66: To help as many people as I can, I have or at least am recovering. To share that they can recover too.
@itsnotmelony: I’d love to work with charities or just grow my own blog to further detail how people with ADHD struggle with their mental health. I’d love to also really work hard to start to end the stigma that all people with ADHD are hyperactive and disruptive.
@OneMoreLightLB: I’m working right now on a petition to take change to the Equality Act to further protect people with mental illness when applying for health and life insurance. I think there needs to be more guidelines in place about the extent and nature of the questions asked & how they’re worded as well as protection from being outright rejected on the basis of your mental health. That’s my biggest goal.
In light of Time To Change’s campaign for #TimeToTalk day this year, what three ingredients do you think are most important when having a conversation about mental health?
@RenjiPls: Leave judgement at the door: Everyone deals with this differently & it may not be what you expect to hear or expect to discuss. If you’re listening? Be empathetic. If you’re opening up? Be mindful yet confident. Be honest. Some thoughts may seem like they’re best left in the corners of your mind, but if you don’t let your hair down & let someone know what’s really going on then it’s not going to help them understand any further. Try not to get frustrated. I’ve found myself struggling at many moments trying to explain what’s going on. Not everyone is going to understand, but getting yourself worked up is detrimental & in the end it doesn’t help you. Try to remain calm & remember to breathe.
@SDianaax: Listening. Compassion. No judgement.
@MEbirdclassABQ: 1. listening without judging. 2. overcoming fear. 3. healthy boundaries.
@good_shit_daily: Three ingredients for effectively talking about mental health: 1. Setting aside ego. Everyone’s story is valid no matter how small it might seem in comparison to your or another’s. 2. Actively listening. Listening to understand instead of responding is something missing from social media by design. We have to work on our personal communication skills to achieve this. 3. Be open to all emotion. We grow with the uncomfortable moments. We have to be willing to sit with our biases when it comes to different view points (like how extremely tough it is for people of color to find a therapist, etc) and accept the stories we are told as truth.
@_sommer_rose_: COMPASSION, nonjudgment, and the knowledge that everyone makes sense within their story. Even if you personally don’t agree with someone’s lifestyle or what have you, being able to see them as a struggling human being who is worthy of all the help and love in the world.
@ohmycarling: Honesty, compassion, and keeping an open mind.
@abrightercloud: compassion, empathy and patience.
@rebekahdussek: Speaking with someone you trust, having plenty of time to have a conversation and being aware of the language that you use and making sure it’s appropriate, for example not reinforcing stigma or making others feel bad.
@purrlsofwisdom: 70ml of empathy, A pinch of patience and A big dollop of kindness.
@pjshaw192: Bravery, empathy and a cup of tea!
@visially: Open, understanding on both sides and listening.
@strengthinkind: I think it depends who the conversation is with and about what. Whether that is with someone you are close to, with acquaintances or online or if the conversation is about your mental health or someone else’s. I would say the three ingredients would be being honest, kind and non stigmatizing. First, be honest, how do you really feel? This isn’t that simple (I know) because it might not be the best situation to discuss your darkest demons but there are usually people online or in our lives who we can be honest with. Bottling up feelings, in my experience, only makes the problem worse. Secondly, be kind. Be kind to yourself. Whatever you feel comfortable sharing is okay, you are doing so well. I know when you are in a dark place it’s difficult so maybe when you are doing better write down some cheerleading words in a form of a letter or something. Be your own best friend. Also be kind to others. Other people might not understand when you talk about mental health, which can be frustrating and devalidating, but this doesn’t make them bad. Some people haven’t experienced it or had anyone close experience it. Thirdly, try not to add to the stigma. Don’t describe yourself as being ‘so OCD’ unless you actually have it, it’s not a cute quirk or an adjective these are serious health conditions.
Thank you so much to everyone who contributed, and to all mental health advocates putting yourselves out there and making yourself vulnerable. You are all part of an incredible generation of people changing the world. For those of you who are still struggling with the idea of talking, please know that you are under no obligation to share anything if you aren’t ready to, but that if you decide the time is right, we will all be waiting for you with open arms.
What are you doing for Time To Talk Day?