Paula and I have been going through the last few years fighting for the right to be heard and wanting the help from the council and the mental health services.
The reasons why we are doing this are due to the fact that we both have been stigmatised about our conditions – between us, we’ve experienced: hearing voices, self harm, suicide attempts, PTSD, depression, anxiety. Quite a list. Furthermore, Paula had to run away from domestic violence, and I live with my epilepsy and dyslexia. We both want to be able to get our stories across and to be able to help others stop going through what we went through, to be and feel safe knowing that there is someone out there who wants some peace of mind.
Paula and I had been going to the library to Open Space Sessions, when we were approached by Maddi Cassel, the Time to Change Communities and Equalities Coordinator for the East of England. She asked us about our thoughts on the stigma of mental health and the problems that have been plaguing the country. Eight people from that group signed up to become Champions then and there, and the training and campaign was up and running. The first event was on October 12th 2016. Out of the original set of Champions, only three managed to keep things going, and we formed a group called The Caterpillars.
At the first event, we were thrown in the deep end and managed to get the table out and set up, also we were able to get in touch with the press and also do a bit of advertising with the help of Maddi. It all went very well and we were able to talk to nine people over the four hours. We used our experience of our past, of domestic violence and verbal abuse, to help convince people to change their views on mental health problems, and to make them more aware of the pervasive stigma.
In the months that followed, we got plenty of help and training from Time to Change. So when we did our second and third events, we were able to make a difference and speak to more and more people about mental health attitudes. By sharing our experiences, we were able to give the people we met a better understanding of what people have to go through with the various types of mental health problems, and we talked about the ways in which everyone could help to change attitudes.
One great idea we put into practice was down to Paula. When we were out at events, we would put a bandage or plaster on our heads and say that mental health problems are hidden injuries. It was a very good conversation starter and when we explained it to everyone we spoke to, they had smiles on their faces and they started to understand what we were trying to get across.
We are still trying to reach people, even though we are not doing events at the moment, through by our everyday conversations. We are constantly trying to get others to sign up to become Champions, and many have walked away with the idea in mind that they could come back at a later date and sign up. Since our last event we have been through more training with the help of other Time to Change Champions and the lovely regional Coordinator, Maddi Cassell. Thank you very much to Maddi for all she done to help us, and to the TTC champion Joe and all the others who are campaigning from different areas of Suffolk.
Lately, we’ve been able to help out with the Suffolk Time to Change Hub, using our personal experience to put our knowledge in to place to help others get started and to get rid of the stigma of mental health problems across a larger area.