Three years ago, I lost my voice. I could still say what I was expected to, say what people wanted me to, say whatever I was told to, but I couldn’t seem to find my voice. I could say whatever anyone needed me to, anyone but me. My voice had been almost silenced by the people around me. I was made quieter by the people who called me selfish, the people who thought I was weak, the people who convinced me I wasn’t worth their time or energy, all because of my worsening mental health. I was made quieter by the people who doubted the credibility of my mental health problems and by the people who doubted my credibility because of them.
During the five years before that, my mental health had slowly deteriorated, starting with unexplainable indescribable sadness, and panic attacks, onto hours of crying, and the start of obsessions and compulsions that would soon start to take over my life. After three years of suffering, of not realising that life wasn’t supposed to be this way, I sought help. Over the next two years, I talked to mental health professionals, a policeman, some friends, who had nothing for me but discrimination based on preconceptions they’d formed about what it meant to have mental health problems. I ended up discharging myself from local mental health services, because I couldn’t deal with my worsening mental health and the chance of facing any more cruelty. A few months later, voiceless and lost, I saw a tweet about becoming a Time to Change Young Champion. I disregarded any trepidation I had and signed up to be part of the Time to Change young person’s panel.
When I attended my first meeting three years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I had no confidence left in what I had to say, but that didn’t matter; it was a space free of judgement and ridicule. Both young people and staff, those that I met that day, and at every training, and event since, have shown nothing but respect and kindness to me and all the other young people. I continued attending various training sessions, from media training, and training on speaking out, to training to help me to deliver my personal testimony, each one starting to give me my voice back, starting to convince me that I had something to say worth listening to. I’ve been able to put my training to good use at events, from joining Time to Change in several schools at events, talking to students while they wrote pledges and watched the campaign videos, to sitting on the panel at a roadshow event for youth professionals in Bristol.
More recently, as part of being a Young Champion, I’ve been delivering my personal testimony in schools around the South, to groups of between eight teachers, to anywhere around 100 students. I share the story of what it feels like to experience anxiety and become so convinced you are being poisoned that you eat sealed food for months, of how I ended up being sectioned and spent five weeks in hospital recovering. I share the story of how I made it through and of how far my family and friends have come in understanding what I’m going through and being supportive. Some of the worst moments of my life were somehow made into positives, from the first time I gave my testimony, and a student came to talk to me at the end, because it was “so nice to finally talk to someone that understood”, to every other student and teacher who has intently listened.
Since becoming a Young Champion, when I face discrimination I now know that I have something important to say, something worth listening to and that I deserve better. Three years on, not only is my voice louder, it’s made stronger with all the others who have the same message to share as me. Together we can change attitudes to improve young people’s understanding of mental health problems. Our stories are all different but each one powerful in its own ways, each one making a difference, each one making me feel honoured to share the title of Young Champion with them.