My story begins at the age of 13, when I first realised that something just wasn't quite right; I'd never heard of depression or anxiety because those words weren’t as common back then as they are now...but I'd heard of “nutters” and “freaks”. I'd seen people at school who were shunned because they were "weird", and I was fiercely determined not to let that happen to me, so I kept my mouth shut.
Even when my father was diagnosed I watched as one by one, close family and friends – people he'd dedicated his life to – disappeared from our lives after they found out he had depression. This reinforced my desire to keep my issues to myself, and I did...for ten years. I essentially led a double life back then; in public, I was happy and carefree just like everyone else, and at home I would disappear into my room and cry for hours. When I made my third suicide attempt at the age of 23, unlike the previous attempts I had actually wanted to die...when I woke up, I realised that I really needed help and I went to see my GP. Since that day I slowly but surely worked on my recovery, but I never told anyone else – until the 7th of June, 2011.
That was the day my Time to Change story began, the day of the Lived Experience Networking Event held in East London. As I sit here and think about that event, I can't help but smile because I really had no clue what that one event would lead to; the amazing experiences, the awesome people I've met along the way and the things I've done...the list is quite long. I've done blogs for the Time to Change website, I featured on the back of one of the Time to Change leaflets, volunteered at the Summer Roadshows and Villages, did newspaper articles and radio shows, trained new volunteers, took part in three documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4...and that's only up to 2013!
Of all the things I’ve done, one of the most memorable experiences was during a Time to Change Village at the Leicester Caribbean Festival. This one man was very upset with me because "our people don't talk about such things". He went on to say that his mother had a mental health issue and no one ever spoke about it because "black people don't air their dirty laundry in public". I asked him if he thought life might have been easier for his mother and his family if they had spoken about it more; he paused, then eventually said it might have been easier before grumbling as he walked away. Moments like those stay with me because that is what it is all about for me – engaging with those who think I’m a drain on society, who think I and anyone like me should be locked away.
I love meeting those people and helping them to realise that they ARE people like me, that I am educated and hard-working just like them…but I must say that conversations like those don’t happen as often anymore. Ten years ago, the mere mention of the phrase “mental health” was enough to send people running away in terror; now, more and more people are not only willing to listen, but they also want to share their stories of mental health.
What needs to happen now is we need to keep spreading awareness, and changing how people think and act. There are still too many people suffering in silence, too many people who don’t understand; but I’m not even sure if a world where everyone is open about mental health is an achievable goal. Even if it isn’t, there are thousands of people like me who will never stop trying because the statistics show just how much we have achieved in the last ten years…imagine what we’ll achieve in the next ten!