November 22, 2012

Putting a Time to Change postcard in a postboxIf you’d met me the day I was packing my bag to go into psychiatric hospital – again - and told me that less than two months later I’d be helping out at a “Time to Change” event in Devon, I would have told you that you were nuts!

As is often the case with me, I went downhill quickly. However, once home on extended leave, I began to recover quickly, too. So, when I saw a plea on Facebook for 50 volunteers to help out at a “Time to Change” event in Totnes, I was keen: especially when I realised I could stay with friends.

Think of Devon, and you probably don't think about mental health. But it was that - specifically, the stigma that many people with mental health problems encounter - which took me to Totnes this August.

The train trip to London was uneventful and I enjoyed my few hours in the capital. However, the coach trip to Exeter was exciting, as it chucked it down with rain: rain that soaked the ground at the agricultural show, and turned the paths between exhibits into treacherous, tractor-churned mud.

The 2012 Totnes Agricultural Show was the setting for a "Time to Change" Village, where around 50 volunteers looked after an award-winning stand for the charity.

And talk we did: to the people who visited the stand

The main goal of "Time to Change" is to get more people talking about mental health thus removing much of the prejudice which is still associated with it. And talk we did: to the people who visited the stand, answering their questions about mental health; and to each other, swapping stories and sharing jokes.

Why an agricultural show? Well, the sad fact is that in the UK, farmers are among those most likely to commit suicide. A farmer I spoke to on the day confirmed the reasons which help explain this: isolation, long working hours and economic uncertainty. He also said that, whilst most farmers are troubled, few will admit it.

I and most of my fellow volunteers had a great time

Considering what a serious subject mental health is, I and most of my fellow volunteers had a great time. We were each given a free "Time to Change" t-shirt (I promptly spilt tea on mine; several washes later, the stain still hasn't come out). The stall had free face paintings; free hot drinks; a "cinema" playing various "Time to Change" adverts, some of which you may have seen on telly or at the pictures; and periodic, two-minute plays in which a pair of actors mimed a scene, whilst a third held up speech bubbles above their heads.

Talking of speeches, we were all a bit speechless when we discovered the stand had won the "Best Educational Stand" award - not least because we didn't realise there was such a thing!

a postcard I addressed to myself at the event arrived through the letterbox

Although I didn't realise it, I was still on a bit of a 'bipolar high' when I arrived home. I had been back from Devon for a few days when a postcard I addressed to myself at the event arrived through the letterbox. On the back was a message I wrote about how, if I'm ever feeling down, I should think about what we accomplished that Bank Holiday Sunday, in a muddy field just outside Totnes.

That postcard is going into my “Wellness Recovery Plan” (WRAP) 'toolbox', when I start my WRAP course.

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