May 10, 2014

As a ‘Time to change Champion' you get to have many interesting conversations with lovely people, usually one to one, but every so often you get a wonderful opportunity to talk to groups. One of these opportunities led to potentially the best conversation of my life, and a critical moment in my recovery, all at a Time to Change event. There was a little issue with this group that I was stood in front of, besides my wife, her colleagues and friends, a former teacher of mine, and just over 200 year 9’s (13 and 14 year olds) in a large Comprehensive school.

I has been looking for this opportunity to discuss mental health for ages

This is how I got involved; It had been a conversation that my wife over heard in the teachers' staff room, in the college that she previously worked at.  A teacher had been discussing inviting someone in to talk about mental health with all years as part of PSHE. My wife volunteered me for the job knowing that I had been looking for this opportunity for ages, but even as a Time to Change Champion I had not done it. I was given a very general brief for the mental health discussion, so I planned to carry the message of ‘Time to Talk’ in to the school and using the ‘Stand up kid’ video.

By Sunday evening I was getting slightly anxious

The excitement of the planned week in school was immense to start with, but by the time I got to Sunday evening I was getting slightly anxious, packing and repacking all the materials, reading and checking my PowerPoint for most of that evening. The plan was to spend the lunchtime with an information point near the school reception, where the majority of students had to pass by, and then I had the main assemblies done by year, 15 minutes to get my point across. Talking to students during lunchtime had kept me distracted but then the bell went; I started the long anxious march towards to the assembly hall to face the most feared age group imaginable (year 9s in every school are notorious).

The words I had meticulously planned flowed from my head, unfortunately not via my lips

Now I stand in the school auditorium in front of my PowerPoint being projected on 20ft high screen. I see to my right are my supporters, my wife, her boss and a couple of colleagues (and friends). In front of me sat 200, highly sugared, 13 and 14 year olds, and multiple levels of school management, including a the deputy head who taught me when I was at school. Instantly all the words that I had meticulously planned flowed from my head, unfortunately not via my lips; my mind was left blank for what felt like an eternity. Quickly looking back at the screen I quickly started ad-libbing my way through a few slides, until I got to the powerful video ‘stand up kid’.

I stand up and give my message: "I have depression, but am I scary to talk to?"

The ‘Stand up kid’ video (a must watch and should be played in every school) gave me 3 minutes of breathing space. When everyone else in the room had the video's powerful message fresh in their minds, I re- enter the arena. Like a man waiting for the lions to be released, in the Coliseum, I stand up and give my main message: “I have depression, but am I scary to talk to?”. Then, like a subconscious release, I spoke of when I remember my ‘problems’ starting in year 9, their age group, after extensive bullying which then lead to me doing anything to avoid going to school. I admitted to injuring myself in what appeared to be accidental ways to avoid my stressors; my school ‘friends’, people who I had to deal with everyday.

I educated many young people that week

I continued to speak and got across the message of the importance of feeling free to speak to others about mental health. I had 200 13 and 14 year olds, looking shocked that statistically 1 in 10 children and young people has a mental health issue, that equates to three in every class room. I finished the session without showing how much I had unintentionally released to the group- I felt a weight had been released, a weight that I had not even been aware of. I felt euphoric.

I felt a new energy when doing the other sessions that week, along with the conversations I had whilst giving information at my little stand. I started a great number of conversations among staff and students that week which continued for some time, I educated many young people that week, and I think I managed to pave the way for a few in need.

What are Time to Change Champions?

Time to Change Champions are people with lived experience of mental health problems (including carers) who campaign to end mental health discrimination in their communities.

Sign up to become a Time to Change Champion and raise awareness by speaking out about your experiences at events and anti-stigma projects.

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