I was recently given the privilege of speaking at the Time to Change Launch Event in London’s Whitehall, and I know I am not the only person who left that event feeling uplifted, positive, and frankly, all warm and fuzzy inside. It was attended by so many people, including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Paul Burstow, representatives from the Big Lottery Fund and Comic Relief, and celebrities including Trisha Goddard, Alastair Campbell, Fiona Phillips. However, in my opinion, every single person there was just as important as the next because we were all there for the same reason.
It is this reason that I want to explore for a moment. So if you don’t mind, please cast your mind back to when you first realised that something was wrong; the year, your surroundings… anything you can remember at all. I was 13 and going through the typical teenage things: not fitting in, feeling inadequate, puberty… but there was something else which just didn’t feel right. After many weeks of not feeling right and not knowing how to fix it, I took an overdose. But I didn’t want to die, I simply didn’t know what else to do as I thought I’d tried everything I could. Talking was out of the question. I was a child of the nineties and then it seemed so much harder to talk about mental health or to be open about the fact that you were different than it does now. These days, everyone’s trying to be different – just look at Lady Gaga!
Now, I’d like you to cast your mind back to the first time you spoke to someone about how you’re feeling – whether it was a parent, friend, or even your GP. Remember how the weight lifted from your shoulders? Remember how the relief washed over you… I was so relieved that I started to cry in front of my GP. He didn’t even help that much but just letting it out felt so… freeing. While we’re on the subject, try to remember what it was like the first time you spoke with someone who has experience of mental illness – the joys of discovering someone who knows what you’re going through, what you’ve been through… and most importantly, someone who recognises that you’re just another person, not a freak. And as you both talk, you gain strength and support from each other, and that’s the moment that you realise that you’re not alone – and that’s what matters.
When I spoke at the Launch Event, I could feel the support of the entire room; every single person there identified with me, knew what I’d been through, and wanted to see the end of discrimination as much as I do. After the event, I had an overwhelming amount of positive feedback on my speech, and an amazing number of people said that they were inspired… and that is my goal. I want to inspire people to talk about their problems, to encourage them to share their story with others so that they can inspire others too. You can read my speech here. Please take the time to read the full speech because some people have misinterpreted it after only reading part. I think it’s so important that we support each other.
It can feel so difficult to talk about your own experiences of mental health. I know just how difficult it can feel: the panic, palms sweaty, worrying about what people will say or how they’ll respond…I know those feelings all too well. But I guarantee that knowing you’ve inspired someone, that you’ve encouraged someone to take that first step to freeing themselves and others too…there are simply no words to express that feeling.
I don’t do this for myself, the campaigning, writing blogs. I do this to inspire others to find the strength that is within themselves. I want to help people to dig deep within and find themselves again, to remember the person that they used to be, and aspire to be the person that they can be. I’ve always said that everything happens for a reason, whether we understand that reason or not. I wouldn’t change anything – the depressions, attacks or oppression – that has happened to me because it’s made me who I am. There is one thing that every single one of you reading this has in common with me, and I never want you to forget it…we’re survivors. Take a few moments of your time, and help someone else to be a survivor too.
Or find out how talking tackles discrimination.