I’m James, I’m 25 years old, and I live in a small town just outside of Chester. I’m a Time to Change Young Champion, and that means I spend my spare time campaigning to stamp out stigma and discrimination around mental health in the UK. I became a Young Champion towards the end of last year in the midst of my struggles with my own mental health – I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember and I have been battling depression for around seven years. I was also diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia over the last few years, which I have been learning to manage better each day.
My battles with mental health problems and disability have caused me much upheaval. It’s affected every aspect of my life, from my confidence to my career and beyond. I’ve faced damaging attitudes, in environments like the doctor's office when I’ve been trying to get help or the interview room when I’ve been trying to get a job. Being on the receiving end of stigma or discrimination, be it intentional or not, can cause such self-doubt and make you feel like a liar, a fraud, or just broken. People often have ideas of the way people with mental health problems may appear or act, but they are often inaccurate perceptions.
In response, I decided to start campaigning to change attitudes towards mental health. I do this in many ways: sometimes it’s by sharing information through social media or writing a blog, other times it’s organising a local event or helping with someone else's event in another part of the country. It is very satisfying to see real time change in people’s attitudes and reactions to mental health, and I believe that knowledge plays a vital role in people's understanding of mental health and how it can impact people close to them.
I have been lucky to have many conversations over the last year, with friends, members of the public and fellow young champions. The most inspiring chat was with a concerned teacher, they had an infectious passion for ensuring that they were doing everything they could to help their pupils as well as their own children. It was really reassuring to know that the vast majority of teachers do care and want to help their students to be mentally well and succeed, something which I previously doubted due to my own experiences at school.
I love getting the opportunity to speak to people from all walks of life, young and old, through campaigning about mental health – it highlights that everyone has a story. If someone isn’t affected directly by a mental health problem, they often know someone who does, and providing them with information from Time to Change can help spark meaningful conversations that can improve awareness and even save lives. It’s as important as ever to be talking about mental health and stamping out stigma and discrimination, and connecting with people is a huge part of that.