I Want to End Stigma Around Mental Health
Naomi Gilchrist, 22, from Grimsby, is the editor of Inside and Out of My Mind, a booklet featuring artwork, poetry and literature inspired by her own battle with anorexia and depression. Here's her story, which comes to us via Fixers.
Young people living with mental health conditions can find it hard to talk about how they’re feeling. I know this from my own experience.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to open up about my thoughts and emotions. I just didn’t know how to and needed to find a way to do so. My adolescence had been spent in mental health care, mostly as an impatient in various units, struggling to find peace with anorexia, severe depression and self-harming behaviour.
For nine years I struggled. I found it really hard to speak about and understand my experiences. But then I realised the only way I could generate real understanding of mental illness was to speak out; share my story. For me, being creative really helped my recovery. It enabled me to make sense of my anorexia and depression and begin moving forward.
Words often failed me, but during my time in therapy I discovered that through art I found my voice.
Words often failed me, but during my time in therapy I discovered that through art I found my voice. I could express what was going on in my head, tell my story in pictures and begin to understand. I still have bad days now, but I take it day by day, hour by hour even. It’s not easy and I will always be in the process of recovery but my life now, compared to the one I had in hospital, is a world away.
I’m at university and I work voluntarily to advocate for children and young people within various organisations. One day I hope to train as a therapist and support other young people just as my therapist supported me in reclaiming my life from the depths of mental illness. In the meantime, I have become a ‘Fixer’. Fixers is a charity which supports young people aged 16 to 25 to get their voice heard on any issue they want. I wanted to tackle the fact that a lot of the information relating to mental health that I’d seen was very wordy and clinical, and I found it hard to relate to.
I wanted to give my mental illness a voice, to help others to understand, as well as provide other young people with the opportunity to share their story too. So we got to work and I asked other young people to share their experiences of mental health in a creative way with me. They sent me stories, poems, song lyrics and illustrations and we compiled them in a book titled ‘Inside & Out of My Mind’. You can see it here.
The different pieces reveal how each person’s illness is unique to them and the unique way in which we each express creativity. They give the reader the opportunity to see beyond the initial story. After all, as the saying goes, “a picture tells a thousand words”.
It was really exciting to see the book come together. When I finally saw a copy, I couldn't stop smiling!
Once it was ready, I started distributing copies and sharing it through social media. People contacted me from all over. Art organisations, young people, mental health service users, professionals, charities and youth organisations have been in touch. It has been really exciting and shows there was a need for a project like this.
I want others to know that they are not alone and together we can increase understanding of mental health.
I’m in the process of working with my local NHS trust to distribute my books and promote my project. I’ve expanded the project into a website so it can spread even further. My recommendations, which are included in a report called the Feel Happy Eating Fix, alongside suggestions from other young people, has been handed over to the Department of Health to review and consider.
I hope and believe the book is helping break down the horrible stigma around mental health by getting people to talk openly. Talking openly is so important and that’s why I shared my experiences with an audience of expert practitioners, academics and policy makers at a conference in central London hosted by Fixers and supported by the Wellcome Trust.
I know it’s not easy but I want others to know that they are not alone and together we can increase understanding of mental health.
Creativity can be very powerful. Everyone knows it’s good to talk and there are more ways of talking than just with words.
If we all stayed quiet, how would we learn anything?