I spoke recently about how building a business was a lonely job and that I had only a handful of people in my life that I could count on for support and reassurance. I also talked about the negative behaviour of my dad who after realising he had upset me hung his head in shame and realised that what I was doing wasn’t about chasing the money and lifestyle anymore, it was about saving lives and helping people fight a very cruel illness by sharing my story and building a business to ensure what happened to me doesn’t happen to others.
Dad admitted he didn’t really understand mental health athough recognised it was on the news and in the press daily. It was a reminder from my mum that 20 years ago, he lost his confidence and was extremely unwell dreading going to work when he was racially abused by his boss over a 6-month period. It was this reminder of how bullying can affect someone’s health that gave him a reality check. Back then people tolerated such behaviour and were mentally tough, there was no support and no one cared enough.
But lets face it these days we are not as tough and do not need to remain silent.
It did get me thinking about my own mental health journey and how few people in my life knew I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and Generalised Anxiety creating fear and Paranoia to the point of social withdrawal.
The reason many didn’t know about my illness is I kept them at arm’s length so I could hide it.
Of course, in the early day’s pre-therapy many people knew I had issues because I went from a curvaceous woman to a woman with a child’s body weighing 100lb at my worst. Post therapy no one had any idea because I excelled in work and retained a manageable weight that drew no suspicion even if people did think I had very odd eating behaviours, by then I had switched from Anorexia to being bulimic and many knew it but I refused to talk about it.
My anxiety attacks became known as Drama queen moments and I happily played along if it meant clients and colleagues didn’t find out about my illness even oversharing my dramas to poke fun at myself.
When I started openly talking about my illness in 2011 the response from many was uncomfortable and dismissive, they didn’t understand it choosing to change the subject to avoid killing the ambience of booze and banter. Their interpretation of mental health meant crazy lady walking down the street naked with a knife or mad man with gun firing randomly. It never occurred to people that many illnesses associated with the brain such as anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders could be mental health illnesses as that only applied to illnesses such as Schizophrenia, Manic Depressive and Bipolar Disorder.
When I decided to set up Mente (Meaning Mind in Italian) it was initially to be set up as a social enterprise to educate people on mental health having studied the subject intensely and then taken on work with mental health charities. Mente was initially set up to sit within my coaching business as an add on to raise awareness.
It was a few weeks in while working with a charity that I realised I could use my business skills and personal experience to create a programme for the SME market to control an illness that costs the workplace nearly £30 billion a year in lost revenue due to sickness and absentee and ensure we spot the signs in ourselves and colleagues and stop the illness before it gets worse by seeking help.
I emailed a group of friends and acquaintances about the new business and the plans and asked them for their own feedback on mental health for my research, more to see if they had any personal experience.
The response showed the supporters and those who are still ignorant to it and burying their heads in the sand.
Those who had suffered directly or with someone close applauded the business as they understood the problem and could see why I was willing to share my story to educate others. Supporters offered praise and encouragement for sharing my personal experience and congratulated me on my desire to make a difference with concrete training.
However, a very small bunch of friend associates, if they bothered to respond were slightly less supportive. One person said I was oversharing, one person said I was committing career suicide and one person horribly suggested I was jumping on the band wagon followed by a lol, this is no joking matter!
When I read the feedback off these three people I felt incredibly sad for them and hoped they themselves might never fall under what is a global epidemic. So many people claim it won’t happen to them but we know that isn’t true. It happens to one in four and even if you are lucky enough to not suffer a loved one or friend most likely will.
The only way Mental Health stigma can end is by those who have suffered or are suffering openly talking about it and that is what I have chosen to do.
I have lost count of the number of people I have helped over the years, I am not scoring brownie points I am merely saying I have given people a path to recovery by sharing my experience and if they went on to seek help and recovered then I have made a difference. I have directly helped multiple people across 3 continents including people with PTSD, Eating Disorders and stress caused by work place bullying. I have also worked with charities like Mind.Org and Sane in sharing blogs, as a reviewer of content on what will be displayed on their website and information booklets on eating disorders to ensure it can be understand by someone with the illness and I am constantly using social media to share other people’s experience in the hope it will touch one person who is suffering too, so I would like to think I have indirectly helped many others too
It is 10 years since my very public mental health breakdown, many years have passed of hiding my illness and it is 10 years later I am making a difference to someone who is suffering. Instead of mocking me for speaking up, oversharing tell me I am brave for overcoming and sharing my journey and sharing the message that no one is immune.
It might take a bereavement, job loss, relationship breakdown or bullying as the case was with me for the mind to become infected, pretending it isn’t really happening really isn’t an option anymore.
Educate yourself to know the signs in others and you too might just save a life.