This blog was written for a local council to mark Time to Talk Day 2021.
A 2015 parliament paper* describes Mental Health stigma using Time to Change’s definition: “the set of negative attitudes, pre-judgements, prejudices and behaviour that can make it harder for inviduals with mental health problems to live a normal life”.
Time To Change has been challenging Mental Health stigma since 2007 on a national level, and more recently on a local level through its community hubs. I am a “champion”, or volunteer, with the Northamptonshire Time to Change Hub. Champions have lived experience of mental illness. My experience goes back to childhood, although my first diagnosis, depression, was at 21. It wasn’t something I shared. No-one did back then.
At the time that parliament paper was published in 2015, I was receiving treatment for depression, anxiety and Binge Eating Disorder. I was also rebuilding my life after literally losing everything. The reasons for this were complex, but mental health stigma and discrimination played a part, even though I did my best to assert my rights.
I had started a new job, and was open about my mental ill-health for the first time. To a point. Because anxiety attacks are difficult to hide. I was wary and careful to notice how my new colleagues responded. Most people accepted me without judgement, and it was such a relief! My new employer also allowed me the space and time to go through therapy and group work with the Eating Disorders Service, and phase off my anti-depressants when I was ready.
It hasn’t all been perfect, thoughtless comments are still commonplace. Particularly around Binge Eating Disorder, which most seem to think is about greed and lack of willpower. I have received so much diet advice over the years, even from healthcare professionals who should know better. But I’ll save that for Eating Disorders Week in March…
I first heard about Time to Change and Time to Talk Day in 2017. The message struck a chord, and I decided to write an email to my team, thanking them for their support and acceptance. I remember being so scared as I pressed “send”, then shedding more than a few tears at the kind responses I received. At this point I realised the power of sharing my story, not just for others, but for myself. My aim had been to help prevent other people from going through what I had, and yet the more open I was, the more my own self-confidence grew.
It is now 4 years since I sent that email. This Time to Talk Day I’m in recovery and talking to strangers online. It has become second nature for me to challenge mental health stigma whenever and wherever I see it. I am learning that I am enough, that I don’t have to hide who I really am. I am finding my voice. I have started to write. I have a sense of belonging I never had before. Yes, I have helped others by being a part of the Northamptonshire Time to Change Hub, but it has given me so much in return.