I’m very pleased to share my shortlisted entry for the 2016 Wicked Young Writer ‘For Good’ award, which is now published in the anthology. I will soon be posting a full write-up about the event which marks a change in my blogging. I am now going to expand from theatre and write about culture and lifestyle in general, although mainly sticking to theatre and mental health pieces. I hope my future posts will be interesting for my readers so to start with here is a personal piece about my own experiences with mental health issues.
“Well done on speaking out. Brave lady!”
Just one comment posted on my Facebook page last year was enough to make me believe I had made the right decision in sharing a link to a BBC Newsbeat article. The article was about me and my anxiety disorder.
The comment made me smile. After years of hiding my condition I finally realised that lying about my mental health issues was never going to change things, not for me or anyone. This was the first time I openly admitted to my friends, and the public, about my battle against anxiety and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. It shouldn’t have taken so long, bit until that point just one word had held me back – a throwaway comment used out of context that simply stuck. “Psycho.”
Anxiety can cause extreme feelings of unease, worry or fear which can take over your body as well as your mind, causing your heartbeat to rise, faster breathing and sometimes panic attacks. To me it feels like a black cloud in my mind, twisting my judgement and trapping myself in a situation I should be comfortable with. Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental health disorder in Britain with 9% of people suffering from the condition. Unsurprisingly that doesn’t make 9% of the population ‘psychos’.
Despite efforts from charities, the media and celebrities, mental health still carries a punishing stigma with it. Mental health problems are often blown out of proportion. The perception of them is skewed and it’s difficult to differentiate between someone with anxiety and someone with schizophrenia or suicidal thoughts. Those suffering often get lumped together as one of the ‘mental’ bunch and it’s tough to break that image. When an ex-boyfriend used that one despicable word to describe me I knew he’d made a snap judgement, but it didn’t stop its effect. I felt like an inadequate, uncontrollable maniac. No-one should ever be made to feel that way.
Words can have an immense amount of power, particularly when mental health is involved. One wrong word can send someone spiralling into the depths of depression; it can destroy a personality or worse drive someone to self-harm. But words can have a positive, constructive power too. One right word can make someone’s day.
Seven years ago a man called Neil Laybourn stopped to talk to Jonny Benjamin, a man struggling with mental health issues who was preparing to jump off Waterloo Bridge. His words changed Jonny’s life. It just demonstrates that it doesn’t take an obviously heroic act to make a difference. Stopping to chat, sending a quick message or giving a compliment to someone in need, can provide someone with an essential boost, giving them the courage to face the day. The community surrounding a person with mental health problems has so much power with their support, however small or insignificant their actions may seem.
The recent Time to Talk campaign has championed this philosophy and encouraged the nation to break down stereotypes by discussing mental health. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk – a lack of conversation and understanding can be formidable to someone in the depths of depression.
I know the difference it can make. After a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I have seen marked progress with my anxiety disorder. The treatment is a talking therapy that encourages you to change the way you think and behave by strengthening positive thoughts. My therapist would listen to my doubts and provide a productive solution that allowed me to face the world with a little more certainty. That compassion and reassurance from another human being not only bettered my mental health but also led me to a pivotal conclusion: hiding my condition and the shame I felt alongside it would never be the answer.
Now I speak about mental health at every opportunity, whether in the media, to friends or to complete strangers. We’ll never change perceptions if we don’t destroy the taboo. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem this year, and words can play a crucial role in changing that statistic – for better or worse. I’ve reached this place, feeling comfortable in my own skin, and my own brain, after one wicked word, and following that a multitude of good ones. It just goes to show the power of words and the power the people using them hold. We all have that power, just make sure you use it for good.