Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of me going public about my mental health for the first time. On the 30th of March 2015 I made a blog post on the Angus & Mearns Liberal Democrats website highlighting my experiences living with depression and seeking help. I can’t tell you how I scared I was after publishing it, there’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness and I had family and friends who would have known nothing about my depression prior to reading the blog.
Those fears couldn’t have been more unfounded. Within a fortnight, over 6,000 people had read my blog and I was receiving messages from local journalists asking to write about my story in the newspapers.
I received dozens of messages from strangers thanking me for coming out with my story, saying that they thought they were the only ones in the world feeling that way, from parents who thanked me for helping them to understand what their son or daughter was going through and from friends and family telling me how proud they were. A year has gone past and I still get the odd message from someone who has stumbled across the blog online, including a Canadian mental health magazine that has just published my story!
Depression has been something that’s dragged me down my whole life but for once I managed to take it and turn it into something positive. Being open about my experiences hasn’t made me subject to the ridicule I feared it would but has actually opened doors for me.
Shortly after posting my story online, somebody from the charity Student Minds contacted me and asked if I’d like to talk about my experiences alongside other people at a mental health awareness event, it was so comforting to have such a supportive platform to talk about such a sensitive topic and to see other people doing the same thing too and I’ve recently had the pleasure of talking for Student Minds again.
In the months following my blog release I quickly found myself becoming a committed mental health activist and decided to run in a by-election for the Scottish Youth Parliament with a manifesto based on raising awareness of mental illness and improving support for young people in North-East Fife. Whilst I didn’t win, I spoke to lots of young people in Fife and managed to spread the message that mental illness can happen to anyone and is nothing to be ashamed of.
My defeat in the Scottish Youth Parliament by-election didn’t deter me from being involved in the world of politics however. Getting involved in politics has been a really liberating experience for me, it has really given me a voice and without the support of my local party, none of my success to date in raising mental health awareness would have been possible. I’ve never been under the illusion that life is fair but being so involved in politics has really made me feel empowered and able to make positive changes in the world. I’m hoping to be a candidate for the council elections in Angus next year and with any luck I’ll be able to continue increasing awareness and support for mental health as a Councillor. Through politics I managed to meet the former Minister of State for Care and Support Norman Lamb who was very impressed by the work I’ve been doing, saying:
“I’m really impressed by Ben’s campaigning on mental health. He has brilliantly led by example. Openness about mental ill health is incredibly important if we are to combat stigma. He is a star!”
Norman has been a champion for raising awareness of mental health issues and to have his support was absolutely amazing.
Currently I’m working on a documentary about my experience of depression with local film-maker (and my former high school teacher) Stuart Burns. Whilst the documentary is based on the blog I wrote last year, we’ve managed to involve some fantastic charities like Student Minds and Nightline to raise awareness of the work they do and the services that they provide. We even filmed an interview with the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie who spoke about the importance of treating mental health with the same priority as physical health and the role that politicians play in improving mental health services. The documentary is called “A Confession of Depression” and will hopefully be finished by the end of May.
Whilst I still struggle with depression and anxiety, the work I’ve been doing to help other people going through similar problems has been a great source of strength for me. There still is a great deal of stigma attached to mental illness and I firmly believe that the best way to tackle this is to keep talking about it.
If you’re struggling with mental illness, you don’t need to man up, just open up. Trust me; people are nicer than you think.