Grace has been campaigning as a YoungMinds Activist since 2010. Here she tells us what campaigning has meant to her, and how you can get involved and help make a positive change.
I have suffered from mental health problems throughout much of my childhood. These went undiagnosed until I started college, when years of silence and oppression avalanched into what felt like an uncontrollable storm of emotions and crisis. Nobody spoke of it. Ignorance (and therefore stigma) was rife. I felt my mental health was something that had to be kept as a strict secret.
However, it was around this time that I had one of the most important epiphanies of my young adult life. “Hate” (which is attached to stigma) doesn’t just appear: it grows from ignorance, a lack of education and compassion and understanding. I felt a duty to start speaking out - I didn’t want anyone else to have the same bad experiences. In addition, I quickly realised that I personally couldn’t get better until I started talking about my mental health.
I’m not going to lie to you - those first few months of speaking up were terrifying. Mental health can be very personal and sharing your experience can leave you feeling vulnerable. Beyond this was anticipation of my peers’ reactions. Top this off with the fact that mental health is still the elephant in the room. But anything new can be scary at first.
TRAINING AS A YOUNGMINDS ACTIVIST
One of the most important steps in addressing my mental health was becoming a YoungMinds Activist back in 2010. Through this I received training, completed multiple media interviews (TV radio newspaper) and was offered opportunities where I could make a difference on a much bigger level.
So, what can you learn from my years of experience?
- Campaigning can be scary - particularly on a subject that is still regarded as taboo, but the benefits – both for yourself and for society - greatly outweigh this.
- Campaigning can help your own mental health. Having said that, you don’t need to have experienced a mental health condition to be a good ally and campaign for better understanding and improved services.
- You can make a difference. You may not change the world overnight, but you can definitely make a difference in your communities, cities, and together across the country.
- No action is too small. By simply having a conversation about mental health, you are breaking down barriers and normalising the topic.
Campaigners have paved the road of change over the past decade, but we still have a long way to go, and it is in our hands to influence change. It’s not going to be an easy journey, but we must keep our eyes on the prize - an end to stigma, the establishment of better health education, and the delivery of better services. In other words, our goal is change!