It was a complete surprise to receive the call telling me I had won the Janey Antoniou award from Rethink Mental Illness. (Rethink Mental Illness is one of the charities behind Time to Change, along with Mind).
Janey was such an inspiration to so many thanks to her tireless and enduring work as a mental health campaigner. Amongst her many achievements, Janey helped to develop the NICE guidelines for treating schizophrenia and trained over 10,000 police in how to respond to situations involving people with mental health issues.
To be recognized with an award proved to be a very proud moment
Picking up the award was surprisingly emotional as I blubbered my way through a short acceptance speech when I received it at the charity’s National Members Day. The work I’ve done so far as a mental health campaigner is rewarding enough when someone sends you a message to say it’s helped them in dealing with their own mental health issues, so to be recognized with an award such as this proved to be a very proud moment, despite my snotty nose and puffy eyes!
Building the confidence to talk about living with mental illness signified a massive turning point in my life
My journey into campaigning first started when I became a Time To Change Champion and was lucky enough to receive training and attend networking events that gradually built up my confidence to talk about living with mental illness. After many years of hiding my mental health issues for fear of shame and embarrassment, this was a massive turning point in my life.
I found that talking publicly about having schizoaffective disorder helped me in my understanding and acceptance of the condition. I was soon doing whatever I could to raise awareness of it: making YouTube vlogs, speaking at events and giving media interviews about my experiences.
Winning the Janey Antoniou award though proved to be another significant turning point and was the motivation in trying to raise awareness of suicide by sharing my own personal experiences.
I worked together with Rethink Mental Illness to do this by launching #FindMike; a campaign to track down the stranger who talked me out of taking my own life. Believing it would surely be impossible to find him, we hoped to at least break the silence around the biggest killer of men under-50 in this country.
Being able to thank 'Mike' in person was a happy moment
To everyone’s amazement, the campaign went viral and was trending around the world! Most remarkable of all though was that we did find ‘Mike’ (otherwise really known as Neil!) within only two weeks. Being reunited and having the chance to thank him in person was an indescribably happy moment.
My search to find Neil was captured on film and the documentary, produced by Postcard Productions, is available to watch online:
I've had so many conversations about mental health in the past year
It really has been an extraordinary year since winning the Janey Antoniou award. Winning it has lead to even more opportunities to raise awareness, break stigma, and meet many inspiring individuals either affected by mental illness or working to improve the lives of those living with it. I think I can safely say that I’ve now had more conversations about mental health in this past year than I’ve had in my entire lifetime.
You can start your own conversation about mental health by signing the Time To Change pledge to end mental health stigma:
If you know of anyone who you think deserves this year’s Jayney Antoniou award then nominations are now open: