I’m not brave

“Thank you for talking, you are so brave”

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I talk about my mental health very openly. In fact if you’re reading this blog you may well have seen me give a talk, workshop or presentation or even on television talking about some issue or concept in mental health; usually weaving in some of my own experiences. I probably look like a natural, as though i’ve been an open book my whole life.

All in all it has taken me 19 years to get to this point. I’ve been ill or at least symptomatic since the age of six. It took me eight years to get a diagnosis, another five until I started opening up and another two  until I really made my peace with my experiences.

For the last six years, since the age of 19 I have had the incredible pleasure and honour of being involved with the mental health charity YoungMinds. Before then I was so far in the mental health closet you could saw I was in Narnia. They not only helped me find my voice but helped me to nurture it and form a narrative around my experiences.

The effect has been profound. During my school years I was completely unable to speak in front of groups of people and used to feign sickness for weeks to avoid the annual public speaking contest. The thought alone of standing up there with nothing but a sheet of notes to shield me caused incredible levels of nausea and anxiety leaving me all but paralysed. I certainly never, ever expected to stand in front of hundreds. In fact I doubt my teachers would recognise me now.

At this point I cannot comprehend what my life would have been like without these monumental changes but I do know I would have had a poorer life. I have spoken on record to such diverse organisations and people as the BBC, MTV, Royal Societies, politicians (including a PM) and many more and gained so much by letting go of my fears.

After every talk I give, people approach me. Some will put their hands up during Q&A sessions and speak openly in front of the group, many though will take me to one side after and quietly speak.

Without fail, at every single speech people do two things:

One in Four? More like four in four

1) They open up about their own run-ins with mental ill health.

Sometimes it is their own experience, something they have never disclosed before. Often it is about a friend or family member and they come to me in sadness or desperation. I have developed an uncanny ability to work out, during a talk, who will approach me afterwards.

This has taught me one simple thing; we are all affected by mental health and illness. We talk about the 1 in 4 statistic but that doesn’t sit well for me. We ALL have mental health just like we all have physically health; we sit on different points of the same spectrum. Which suggests to me that mental illness affects 4 in 4 of us..but only 1 in 4 will admit it. And perhaps even that statistic is too high.

2) “You are so brave” I’m not so sure

Secondly, I am told, almost like clockwork that I am “brave”

Now before I start unpicking this one let me say; I get it and I appreciate the sentiment. But it makes me sad.

I think what people see is a very young looking girl (more 15 than 25) standing up and opening up in a really honest way. Yes I am those things but I am much more. I have been standing up and telling my story repeatedly for six years and at this point I feel no fear, no misapprehension about what I do.

I am lucky because I do not need to be brave any more. Just myself.

It is brave to stand up and say something for the first time, to give words to wooly concepts and feelings. It is brave to stand up when you don’t know what the reaction to your words will be.

But what I have learnt, much to my early surprise, is that opening up about mental illness does not automatically mean opening yourself up to criticism and abuse. In fact 99% of the reaction I get is overwhelmingly positive and empathetic. So in fact all I am opening myself up to are compliments and smiles-that suddenly doesn’t seem too brave does it?

I am seen as brave for standing up and speaking when others don’t. And that is a damn shame. If you had my experiences you would see being open is a wonderful gift to be shared. Like I said in my blog about running up against anti-psychiatry Scientologists:

If I won’t stand up, someone who has been ill for a lifetime, used services for a decade and has worked for the NHS and mental health charities, how can I expect anyone else too?

I don’t want to be seen as brave but as a role model. I don’t want to be the only person on a podium or the token service user. I want us to stand up together, regardless of whether we are students, doctors, psychiatrists or siblings and talk.

I know it’s not very British but it shouldn’t be seen as brave either.

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Week Two: Eating Disorders Awareness Week

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The second week of February, well from the 11th to today, the 17th of February it has been the annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Every year i am blown away by the amount of support and awareness raising that goes on during this week, especially by Beat the eating disorders charity.

And this year was no different with both their “Sock it to Eating Disorders” and “Everybody knows somebody” campaigns which both received a lot of high profile support and attention.

Some things i absolutely must mention..

My wonderful friend and London VIR for YoungMinds Amy-Louise posted this inspirational video. Amy-Louise reached out to the online community and asked them to send her their videos and the result is both heartwarming and heart breaking in equal measures.

You can also visit her blog and Youtube channel to see more of the wonderful work that she does.

There were also some amazing blogs this week on YoungMinds website from young people and their families on the themes of Eating Disorders and Recovery. Please remember that all blogs of this nature can be triggering if you are struggling and should be watched only if you are feeling up to it.

And i know this is a bit of a selfish and silly one but i was incredibly excited that i was re-tweeted by Stephen Fry even if it did involve airing his dirty laundry!:

Stephen Fry retweets WellHappy!

Stephen Fry retweets WellHappy!

 

There was also a groundbreaking debate on Eating Disorders held in Parliament on Friday and chaired by Caroline Noakes MP, Head of the APPG on Body Image and a vocal campaigner for change and awareness. I have started talking to her over Twitter and am hoping to meet with her soon.

I will be posting more specifically about this debate in a blog coming soon. Watch this space!

February Round Up Part 1

Right, time for a super quick round up of the first fortnight of February because it’s racing ahead and things are at risk of becoming a blur!

Week One

City Hall and the Peer Outreach Team

The month started off well with an update with our app team at City Hall where we talked over our plans for launching the app and website and the event we are planning.

 

Right Here Showcase at Wellcome Collection

I then literally ran part of the way to the Right Here Showcase and immediately ran into someone i have known on Twitter for some time for whom i have a great deal of respect; Mark Brown, the editor of One in Four.

I had been desperate to attend the showcase at the incredible Welcome Collection in Euston, not least because Right Here Newham would be there, co- authors of the State of Mind manifesto.

I also got to meet Simon Lawton-Smith, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation and got to mention my app..a lot!

MedFacts and Innovation Labs

I had expected to just be a participant but at the last minute ended up speaking with Lucie Russell, Director of Campaigns and Policy at YoungMinds about our exciting new MedFacts project which you can read about here.

We also heard about some great new projects that are also being funded through Innovation Labs including Youth Net’s Madly in Love microsite. I will be facilitating a workshop about this at the The Site’s Leaders workshop in March.

We also heard about my friend Yvonne Collin’s new project from 16-25 which Keep the trust: A sympathetic online support, advice and informal training service that can be used to support adult non-health professionals, who have been identified by young people as influential or important people in their lives.

You can read more about Innovation Labs which is a project from Comic Relief, Nominet Trust and Right Here (Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Mental Health Foundation) here if you are interested.

App prototype

On Wednesday i actually got to hold a prototype version of the app i am developing in my hands for the first time!

It’s looking really good so far and i can’t wait to share more with you all!

Meeting the Peer Outreach Team

At the end of week one Devika and I were invited to the GLA’s Peer Outreach Team meeting where we got to tell them about the app we are working on. We got an amazing reception and the team were really excited to get involved, especially in our launch event. It was great to be able to bring the project to the team as they were involved in writing the State of Mind manifesto that started all of this. We were able to go to them and give them an answer to one of the manifesto aims, “tell us where we can go when we need help”.

Remember, it’s almost Eating Disorders Awareness Week!

beat eating disorders

Tomorrow is the start of the annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I have been looking forward to it because i know what an amazing job people like the Beat Ambassadors  taking the stage they have been given to tell us their stories, to show their campaigns, raise awareness and fight some of the terrible misconceptions about these dangerous disorders.

This year the leading UK Eating Disorder charity Beat are asking us to “Sock it to Eating Disorders!” and i know i will be!

To find out how you can get involved check out Beats helpful page here where you can find out more on how to celebrate and raise money for a great cause. You can also talk to other sufferers and carers on their great message boards and even attend events which you can find here.

You can also Follow Beat on Twitter  

As well as these people on Twitter:

Me: I will be tweeting a lot during EDAW13 mostly with my service user hat on here

The big London mental health project i am currently working on which will be tweeting about London Eating Disorder Services, resources and more here :

The absolutely wonderful VIK Project:

And of course  YoungMindsUK

The Kat returns after quite an absence

shutterstock_122492893Hello dear readers,

I must firstly apologise from what feels like a very lengthy absence from the blogosphere for me, it was certainly not intentional but as it turned out quite unavoidable.

Those who have been paying attention will know that since August last year i have been working for YoungMinds and NHS London’s My Health London to produce an app and website for young people in the capital.

After a few false starts and issues at the beginning we are now working at full pace and racing towards a release date which has been set as mid-March..not leaving much time to get everything ready for launch.

We have developers, designers and young people working closely together to produce something that we hope will answer point five of the State of Mind manifesto and help young people find help when they need it most.

I will be releasing sneek peaks over the next few months as we get closer to launch so:

1. Watch this space

2. Follow me on Twitter at @KittyCormack

We will also be launching a website next month and i can’t wait for you all to see it.

Risk, resilience and young people online

A few weeks ago i attended two conferences on how young people use the internet and the risks and opportunities involved. Both were fantastic experiences and i not only enjoyed attending the conferences and hearing from young people and practitioners around the country but also presenting to such fantastic audiences.

Munch, Poke, Ping

The first conference, “Munch Poke Ping”, was hosted by Stephen Carrick-Davies and was something i had been looking forward to for a long time given that the subject matter was so intertwined with my own experiences and work. Originally i had asked Stephen, who i met through Katie Bacon of Online Youth Outreach, if i could attend. This led to me not only attending but also presenting at the conference about my own experiences of using the internet as a therapeutic tool, the positive power of peer support and the work i am doing currently with YoungMinds and MyHealthLondon.

The conference was attended by professionals working with children and young people from a variety of perspectives including teachers, support workers, youth workers, psychologists and others and the line up on the stage was just as varied as the audience itself.

Among the line up were speakers from PRUs including pupils, staff and a headteacher as well as Online Youth Outreach, Blackberry and Dr.Richard Graham who works with young people with technology addictions.

Although i am well versed in public speaking this event, for me, was a little daunting as it was my first foray into speaking as a professional and not just a “young person” or “service user” (the labels normally attributed to me). However as soon as i had a microphone in front of me i was fine! (Something that i imagine would shock those who went to school with me where i was known for being quiet and anything but happy about standing up in front of large groups of people).

After a somewhat dark session in the morning looking at grooming i spoke about the positive effect of the internet and how i believe it has helped me and helped me help others over the years. I did this through talking about my own experiences of mental illness and using and running support groups and forums online. I wanted to stress that not everything that happens on the internet is bad or untoward and that actually thousands of young people are helped every day by the peer support they receive online.

I have noticed that professionals, when considering young people and their internet use (especially “vulnerable” young people), find it very hard to see beyond one thing. Risk.

This means that projects are often slowed down or more likely not even considered, I hear a lot of fear and dismissal of service user involvement and participation let alone the concept of peer support within this.

My answer? Yes there are risks involved in going online, and yes some people are more “vulnerable” than others, however there is risk inherent in all areas of life. Risk is a fact of life and people will do “risky” things regardless, you may not be able to stop it but imagine the effect it would have if you could at least help manage and minimise it.

The ban and block  culture and our fear of the worst case scenario paralyses us and certainly does not move us forward.

 

And while bigger organisations are pondering all the worst case scenarios of having even, say, a pre-moderated, closed forum for service users, service users like me have been doing this for a decade now.

And i understand the fear that exists, believe me. I understand the fear of lawsuits and Daily Mail fodder but please bear in mind it can be done, and done well.

It’s not about trying to making risk obsolete, it’s about building resilience, educating young people and providing support; just check out what the Cybermentors do.

There are safeguarding measures that you can put in place, so many i wouldn’t know where to start..and do you know what? A lot of them are common sense! Like not giving out personal details online, just like you shouldn’t give them to a stranger in the street.

I’m sure most young people would tell you too that we don’t want to be wrapped in cotton wool and actually we need to learn by experience.

Personally i doubt exactly where i would be today without the peer support i have and currently still get online, i don’t imagine it would be a good place.

It has been a part of my life for around ten years now including before, during and after more conventional psychological help. Yes the help that i was receiving wasn’t from someone qualified in any paper-based way but i was fully aware of that going in. Not only that but the support was free and, unlike most mental health services, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A stark contrast to most service provision which operate on a strictly 9-5 basis (with a few exceptions of course). No two year waiting lists in sight either..

I don’t blame the services. I understand the pressure they are under, it was pretty bad ten years ago and with the brutal cuts to the NHS things aren’t looking too good here on the ground right now.

Peer support should be encouraged, as a grass roots movement of sorts it already wields immense power and touches and enhances the lives of thousands. Just look at the hit counts on websites that are already doing it. And look at how successful ChildLine and Beat Bullying for great examples of how to reach out online.

It was amazing to be given a platform to speak about something that is so important to me both personally and professionally. It is the reason that with YoungMinds and MyHealthLondon i am developing an app and website to help young people who need support.

I met some incredibly interesting people throughout the day and the conversation continued both at the conference and on twitter (#mpp #munchpokeping).

The day after was a conference run by YoungMinds and ACAMH titled “Young people in the internet wilderness: a ticking time bomb?”,  my next post will be coming shortly!

Name our app and win a prize!

shutterstock_64221979YoungMinds and Myhealthlondon have teamed up to help young people in London. We are doing this by developing an app and website to help young people find help when they need it; whether that be with mental health, sexual health or drugs & alcohol use.

Help us name our app for young people and you could be in with the chance to win either an ipod or £50 of high street vouchers.Good luck everyone!

Please share this message!

Enter the competition