December 16, 2011

Richard Hilson wearing captain's hat

Facing his fear of the open ocean to raise awareness of the Time to Change campaign.

A wind of change has breezed into my life – or should I say a hurricane. I've decided to take a short career break to take on a rather epic challenge.

I've never sailed before... but on Christmas Eve, after 5 weeks of training, I join Leg 5 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race; acting as a fully fledged crew member on the "Welcome to Yorkshire" yacht. Hitting my own fear of the open ocean head on, I'm using this challenge to raise awareness of the Time to Change campaign.

The campaign, run by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, is England’s biggest ever attempt to end the stigma and discrimination that faces people with mental health problems. As well as raising awareness, I’ve set an ambitious charity fundraising target of £1 for every one of the 7,400 miles I sail. This will be donated to Mind – you can find out more and sponsor me at


I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety since my mid twenties and most recently I have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. This diagnosis has helped me understand why I can get more stressed than other people in certain situations – an explanation which at 36 is a great relief. In fact, it has come as such a relief that I’ve decided I deserve a break… but a break with a very different therapeutic angle…

Despite doing very well at coping with stress, anxiety and depression all my life, I’ve decided to take a break from the stresses that increasingly fill our busy lives and flush my system with a good dose of real fear – the kind of fear you have to react to or get hurt, put other’s lives at risk or put your own life at risk.

There will be no room for my usual fears and anxieties amongst the roaring oceans, far out at sea, where intuition rules. The ability to analyse and ponder is all but banished by the challenges thrown up by the unpredictable sea and the exhaustion inflicted by the sleeping/working patterns of the yacht’s watch system. Goodbye stressful thoughts and worry. Hello scary sea!

Helping people understand

I’ve always been very open about my mental health problems. I can’t remember ever feeling ashamed but I know there are people who do feel this and who find it difficult to be open about such matters. In my opinion, keeping things in only makes things worse. So I hope that my openness can help others feel that it is OK to be more open and by raising awareness as part of this challenge I can play a small part in creating a society that is more supportive and understanding of mental illness.

Find out more

You can find out more about my epic journey, as well as read my own personal experiences and guides to anxiety, depression and Asperger Syndrome by visiting my website


Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.