Recently I took part in a presentation at Time to Change’s annual Story Camp. Every year they organise a day of workshops, with the overall aim being to encourage people with mental health conditions to share their stories, whether via blogging, vlogging or in the media. Why? Simple. STIGMA. That ugly word we all like to pretend isn’t real, surely it isn’t as bad as the press make it sound? Not these days. But I’m afraid that in many cases it is. Stigma stigma and more stigma.
Allow me to share a friendly example. A few weeks ago I met up with a friend for coffee. She’d just been informed that two of her colleagues had depression. “Everybody seems to be on pills these days,” she said with a roll of her eyes… and I agreed with her, because it’s true. “Paracetamol, hay fever tablets, Lemsip. It’s great that we have so many options don’t you think? Who knows when illness could strike.” I knew full well that these weren’t the type of ‘pills’ she was referring to and she blushed, realising her mistake. “Oh shit sorry, I forgot you were….” “mental?” I quipped, trying to ease her discomfort.
She laughed nervously and we changed the subject. I’d made my point.
For reasons that perplex me, it’s still considered a social faux pas to discuss medication used to treat mental health conditions.
When I first moved to London I didn’t dare tell a soul about my anxiety, it was a sure sign of weakness. This was further confirmed when a senior colleague advised “you should always appear 100% confident during meetings and presentations.” (In which case I was f**ked).
In contrast, Time to Change argue:
“Too many people are made to feel isolated, ashamed and worthless as a result of their mental health problems. We all have a part to play in making it easier for people with mental health problems to make friends, work and lead a full life.”
I couldn’t agree with this statement more. Having acute social anxiety disorder was hard enough without worrying that if ‘found out’ I could lose my job.
After a solid introduction from Director Jo Loughran, which included a hilarious anecdote about falling over on her journey that morning, (seriously the mud on her tights was evidence enough)! Story Camp began.
When it was my turn to present I was jittery. Even with the unphasable Seb Baird (TTC’s Digital Officer) by my side, I still felt exposed. Yet after listening to the other speakers and having faith in what TTC is all about, I thought ‘f**k it.’ So I did something that I’ve NEVER done before. I admitted to a room full of people that I was nervous, in fact I said “I have social anxiety disorder and I’m shitting myself here” (not literally). To my delight everyone laughed! No sideways glances or awkward silences. It was cool, no judgement or stigma was present in that room. It was safe. This had a tremendous effect on my performance. I presented better and more honestly because I was being myself and I felt supported. It has to be one of the most liberating experiences of my life, one that made me think about what could be possible if the whole world embraced this attitude.
What if there’s a person out there right now with the ability to eradicate cancer, but because of a mental health condition is too afraid to contribute? – That might be a bit extreme, but you get my point!
Time to Change is a growing movement of people who are dedicated to changing people’s attitudes and I’m proud to be associated with them.
For more information check out their website here
Without meaning to sound cheesy, I feel like the people who attended Story Camp will change the world with their stories. They’ll educate others and inspire progress.
It was a pleasure to be there! 🙂
Here I am with Seb and Ellen White, who lead the presentation on vlogging. Mind Award winner 2014 & all round amazing girl.