Practice what you preach: Mental Health & Wellbeing

Over the years, I’ve realised I’ve become, in some ways a role model for some young people struggling with mental health issues. However I’ve often told people to do as I say and not as I do.

Of course I’m not perfect (newsflash: no one is) and I’m often guilty of neglecting my own mental health while campaigning on behalf of others. My overexertion and incidents of burnout are well known and I’m often asked told to slow down and put myself first for once.

I’ve been inspired to write this blog, and to actually practice what I preach, by two things recently.


I recently heard the brilliant Clare Gerada speak about the need for those on the NHS front line to “pull their oxygen mask down first”. She argues that it’s very hard for a doctor to look after others when their own health and wellbeing are suffering. Clare set up a groundbreaking service in London for NHS doctors and dentists with mental health or substance misuse concerns called the Practitioner Health Programme. There is, as you can imagine a real need for this type of service and in the last 5 years it has seen over 1,500 people.


One of my wonderful friends Vanessa, a great mental health activist, wrote here on Time To Change Leeds blog about being in hospital and feeling, in her words, “muted” by the experience.

what I can’t quite cope with is how that has spread to me being unable to stand up for other people and be an advocate for them or Mental Health in general. I am questioning my validity or role as a volunteer and not pushing as hard as I should be in standing up to the stigma and discrimination that exists for people experiencing a Mental Health Problem. There is this sense of disconnection at the moment and instead of being out there campaigning, I am in a unit not being very aware of anything that is going on or if I am aware letting them slip by me.

What struck me at that point, and I told her too, is that for me at least, the fact she is even accessing treatment, being brave enough to go through gruelling inpatient treatment in particular, is massively inspiring and a very powerful thing for the mental health activist community to witness.

We can speak at conferences and shout on picket lines until we lose our voices but often the most powerful things are the actions we take. By accepting treatment and sticking with it Vanessa has put herself first and has actually inspired me to bite the bullet and accept a referral back to mental health services.

It’s all well and good us shouting from the rooftops about mental health but it doesn’t reflect well on us when we ignore our own advice and let our health slip down our list of priorities.

I was recently asked to get involved in an organisation that promotes body confidence, I turned it down because I know I am a horrendous role model in that regards. But I don’t want that to be true forever.

So today I bit the bullet and asked to be referred to the local mental health team. I also have a new GP who is lovely and am willing to engage in whatever treatment they offer me. I’m doing my best to carve out time every day just for me, to practice self care and allow my brain to wind down and it’s already helping a huge amount.

Sometimes I feel guilty for not replying to all the messages I get from others needing advice straight away but then I remember; I can’t help people properly if my brain is fried through over work or neglect.

It’s all well and good me helping other people but I can’t forget to look after myself too.

I encourage others to seek help if they are unwell, I am no exception, I must practice what I preach.

It’s mental health awareness week: and I am only too aware

So May 13th-19th is Mental Health Awareness Week.


Yes i realise i am late to the party. I have a reason although you will have to excuse the shedloads of irony; i am not well. And by that i mean in my head.

Welcome to the beauty, or rather the curse of mental illness. As lovely as it would be if i could channel all my OCD into cleaning my wardrobe out (i’ve been putting it off for months) or all my anxious energy into getting through my overflowing email inbox, it doesn’t work like that.

Instead on a week where i would like nothing more than to blog, tweet, meet and run from event to event i can barely get my thoughts in enough order to make a cup of tea. 

And because of the inherent, insipid guilt and self loathing that has somehow slipped into the cracks (i drop my guard for one minute..) you beat yourself up because you, surely you of all people should be out there shouting on the streets, obsessively blogging and tweeting. But instead i know most have you have had something not unlike radio silence from my end.

I also feel guilty because the campaign is around physical exercise and wellbeing. Unfortunately this is less than possible for me for a few reasons;

1. Due to whatever mess is happening in my head at the moment i am really struggling to get out of bed and go to work (i have failed more than achieved this recently) although when i do make it it is some (stressful) exercise

2. Due to my weight and general physical health to some extent because of that exercise is not a great idea for me!


So i think my exercise for this week will mainly be lifting a cup of tea to my mouth and stretching in the morning sun. Better luck next time.

Our first focus group

On Friday i ran the first focus group with young people for our Wellbeing app for young Londoners. Although we didn’t have as many people as we expected the day was still a great success and we were inundated with suggestions and ideas.

We split the group into three sections to cover three of the biggest areas we identified previously: the look and feel of the app & website, the content it needs to have and how to launch it so that it reaches as many young people as possible.

We had some really innovative ideas for all areas and are currently feeding back young people’s responses to our designers and developers: we want to make sure that young people are not just given an opportunity to express their ideas but that those ideas are taken seriously, taken on board and made into reality.

The focus group was a great pilot and we will be running more over the next few months both on and offline so if you would like to find out more or even get involved please don’t hesitate to contact me at

Thank goodness it’s Friday!

It has been a very productive week in the office but in my poor sleep deprived, zombie-esque state i am rather happy to have reached the end of the working week. My sleep tracker app tells me i am very much in debt to the sandman.

A lot of progress has been made though, we have been working hard in the office, mapping even more services (now almost 400!), going on fact finding missions, blogging and i’ve been busting some jargon to help young people navigate the often nonsensical world of psych-speak.

And next week is looking like another busy one, not that that’s a bad thing!

On Monday i will be attending the London Launch of Rethink Your Mind. which is being held at Tuffnell Park Tavern (12:30-16:30) and is free. The details are below if you also wish to attend. It looks like a fantastic opportunity to hear some really interesting people speak and do some networking.

On Wednesday the team and I shall be sitting down with
BrightLemon. to start working on building the app and website which is very exciting!

On Friday i shall be back in the offices of the Royal College of Psychiatrists fact finding and talking about quality & improvement in CAMHS.

And Saturday sees the return of YoungMinds VIK day which is something i always look forward to. To find out more about the work the VIK project do click here.


So i hope you all have a good weekend and hopefully come Monday i shall be a bit more awake! We will also be sending out surveys & sharing our initial web page with you early next week so watch this space!

In the meantime you can:
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Mind Apples

As many of you know i am always on the search for new information and websites around mental health (for proof check out my list in the Self Advocacy section here:

I recently stumbled across a site with a wonderfully catchy title; Mind Apples. This site has been set up to share all of those little things that we can do to keep mentally healthy, just like we need our “5 a day” in terms of fruit and vegetables to nourish our body we need to do things to nourish our minds and keep them healthy too.

They must be on to a good idea too as they’ve just won two awards for innovation so a big round of applause for them! It’s not easy to do something so positive and pro-active in such an unstable time.

The website itself can be found here:

And they also have a Facebook, Twitter and Flickr account:!/mindapples

But what do you do to keep yourself mentally healthy?


First published 15th May 2011: