It was in 2012 that I started to experience anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety – as well as depression and a suicide attempt in August 2014. My dad was the first to notice a change in my behaviour. It was a shock when my parents sat me down to talk to me – and it was a lot to take in.
I had internalised how I was feeling for so long out of fear and shame, that I found myself stuck in a vicious cycle. At that moment, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and later came a sense of responsibility to help others who were still suffering in silence.
Sadly, like many, I have faced stigma and discrimination when talking about my experiences. People have put labels on me, making assumptions about my experiences.
There’s this belief held by many that girls are ‘always’ worrying about their weight and what they can and can’t eat. That it’s their fault for plugging into social media and celebrity culture. There’s a common generalisation that women – and men – with eating disorders are all on the same journey.
People simply group us all together without understanding our individual stories, experiences, backgrounds, and ethnicities.
This year, the pandemic has demonstrated just how vital it is to talk about mental health. Some people who hadn’t experienced mental health problems before are facing them now, so it’s more important than ever to encourage conversation. Those people need to know there is support out there, and people and organisations they can turn to if they need help and support.
Despite these challenging times, our work continues. As a Time to Change Champion, a part of that work is about sharing my story, and making my voice heard. It’s about keeping up momentum and working together, because if we lose that, we’re back to square one.
We should talk about mental health every day, but World Mental Health Day is a great marker to helps strike up important conversations. It’s a day in the diary that simply brings mental health to the forefront of our minds, and reminds us all how important it is to look after ourselves and one another. The mind is the most powerful organ in our body, yet many people still don’t think about their mental health in the same way as they do their physical health.
It’s important to use World Mental Health Day as a chance to tackle taboos and give people the opportunity to learn from others experiences, which may differ from their own.
There’s a lot of mystery around mental health still, and so many things many people are yet to unravel.
To me, this year’s theme “Mental Health for All” is really important. It demonstrates that we all have mental health, and mental health problems can affect anyone. They don’t discriminate – so no one is out of the equation. It’s about ensuring mental health is understood by all, and help and support is accessible to everyone, regardless of their background. We all have the right to obtain knowledge – because educating ourselves is how we can all make a difference.
People from BAME, LGBTQ+, and many other communities are now talking about their mental health and the stigma they have faced. Finally, conversations are happening which acknowledge the need for a greater variety of services, so those who are most marginalised in our society can find the right support.
Lots of progress has been made in our fight to end mental health stigma and discrimination. Accurate media reporting and having high-profile advocates on our side has influenced real change in recent years. Having celebrities fight the cause has re-positioned some people’s thinking, and has given many others hope in the realisation that they’re not alone.
The fight may never be over, but I hope it will be, and that hope is what spurs me on. It’s about working at it and keeping at it. There’s so much more that needs to be done to reduce stigma, so we can’t, and must not stop learning. Together, we can make a difference. It's ok to not be ok.
For all the progress we've made, lots of experiences have been left out of the 'mental health conversation'. Too often, mental health stigma continues to leave people feeling isolated and ashamed. That's why we're calling on everyone to open up to mental health this World Mental Health Day, and listen to people's experiences.