Nicole, January 26, 2018

It’s Time to Talk Day, so I want to share the message that talking about mental health does not need to be something to be ashamed or embarrassed of. This means breaking down stigma and opening doors. Perhaps, the door to the doctor’s surgery. Or the door to the quiet room outside, where I believe it is okay to talk.

Over the last year as a Young Champion with Time to Change, I have become confident in standing up to the stigma surrounding mental health. In doing so, I have had many conversations about mental health, many of which have not been behind a closed door.  I have spoken about mental health in schools, conferences, the supermarket, the park and even on a dating app. I kid you not. Each simple conversation has encouraged me to keep talking, to keep reducing the stigma, the myths and raise awareness too. Looking at the conversations I have had, there are a few I would like to share with you, to show how simple it can be. 

I will start with the dating app. This is something that is new to me, and I find it all very awkward. But with my newfound ‘better oops than what if’ kind of attitude, I thought why not? I want to work in mental health, so it is difficult not to talk about it in the general ‘get to know each other’ conversations. It sure is easier to talk about mental health to people who know me, but it did not come with as much hesitation as previous years. It did however, come with something the doubtful side of my mind was not expecting. After being straightforward about what I do and why I do it, the person I was speaking with told me about his own experiences with mental health. It was a very natural conversation in a not-so-natural environment. He is the reason I do not fear talking. 

Moving on to another conversation, one far from the dating app - in my grandmother’s residential home. I feel there are a lot of assumptions about the older generation not understanding mental health but I have never experienced this, not with my grandparents anyway. I think people assume because of the generation and how much stigma was around years ago, that older people feel more embarrassed to talk openly about mental health, but not my grandmother. Each time I visit, my grandmother will ask how I am feeling. She will talk openly about what I do, where I have been and how proud she is of me. These conversations are never hushed. My grandmother is the reason I do not fear talking. 

I mentioned talking about mental health to people who do not know me, or my experiences, can cause doubt and hesitation. I experienced many of these moments whilst working at a summer camp. Surrounded by new people, it came with the question and conflict of: should I be open about my experiences or not? I decided to take this opportunity to have the mindset that if it comes up, it comes up. I guess it was kind of seeing how I would face my own doubts and confidence in talking openly. In doing so I found myself having the most comfortable, open and natural conversations about mental health. ’Talking whenever and wherever’, really became a reality whilst talking about suicide in the middle of New York. My new friends are the reason I do not fear talking. 

From each and every conversation I have had, whenever and wherever they have been had, someone has benefited. The people in the conversation have felt more able to speak openly and some of the shame and embarrassment engraved into our minds has been taken away. Each conversation I had, is the reason I do not fear talking. 

Mental health is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Talking can change lives, whenever and wherever. 

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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.