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• A Ghost Story: My Journey With Psychosis

20 January

by Freedom Of Mind

Blogs

In this post, Gilda Lockheart shares what it’s like living with psychosis and how her performance work has helped her to better understand these experiences.

TW: Graphic Descriptions of violence, Death, Psychosis, Suicidal thoughts
*Note from the editor* You may find this an intense read so please make sure you look after yourself.We feelthis post opens up conversations about a side of mental health that isn’t talked about as often, and it is important we recognise all sides of mental health and mental illness . It’s heavy, but personally, I also found it eye-opening.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised here, there are people you can talk to. Check out our Talking and Support page or ring the Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

 

I am nine years old, and wake to the sound of weeping. Afraid that somebody in my family is upset, I jump out of bed and rush to my parent’s bedroom door, but no sound comes from their room. I then go to my sister’s bedroom, but she is silent too.

The crying is incredibly loud, as if it was coming from right next to me. I go back to bed, confused and frightened and, after a few weeks, I think it must have been a nightmare.

I hardly see anyone talking about psychosis, despite new research which estimates approximately one in thirteen people can expect to have at least a single psychotic episode by the age of seventy-five.

I am now twenty-six and I have had recurring periods of psychosis since I was nine years old. Sometimes, it can be two weeks or even a month of persistent, negative voices whispering into my ear and visual hallucinations all focused on death: people throwing themselves off of a bridge, a man hung and swinging from a tree; melted faces, bodiless and hovering in mid-air, and mutilated bodies crawling down the stairs.

But I have also been free of psychotic episodes for years at a time.

My psychotic episodes are occasionally benign and funny: the voices can tell decent jokes, and I once saw a vortex to another dimension open up in a wall, which I thought was actually pretty rad.

However, my psychotic episodes are far more often horrific and disturbing. I found it an incredibly isolating illness; when I first started university, at age twenty, I remember my class having a discussion around depression and anxiety – which I have also experienced, mainly in conjunction with psychosis – but nobody else mentioned hearing voices.

I was surprised to find research that stated psychotic episodes are relatively common, and I wonder if it’s the absurdly untrue, negative stigma around psychosis that keeps people suffering in silence. It’s a common misconception that the word ‘psychotic’ means ‘dangerous’  and Hollywood and the media have often portrayed those experiencing psychotic symptoms in a negative light.

I didn’t have many episodes as a child. I recall once seeing a little girl walk past my bedroom door, and more unexplainable crying and singing, but these memories are so vague that they are unreliable.

Psychosis only began to affect my life in a significant way from the age of eighteen. I have since been told by mental health professionals that late teens to early twenties is most often the age it first starts, or begins to really kick off. The visual hallucinations became far more disturbing and lasted for longer durations of time.

I am eighteen years old and at home by myself. A headless man appears in the room, a few feet away from me. The atoms that make him form fly together as if it were a jigsaw puzzle. I am frozen in shock, and he staggers towards me, arms outstretched, zombie-like. I think he is going to strangle me, but as soon as he is within touching distance, he disappears into thin air. This all happens in less than a minute, and I wonder if I had fallen asleep on my feet, despite not being tired.

From then on, I saw people or corpses every few months. Even when the people were whole, there was something wrong with them: blank, staring eyes, slightly transparent, anatomy slightly off, no facial features. The voices were far more frequent too, but, at this point, they were a dim chatter in my head, and so vague that I could only make out a few distinct words amongst the chatter. They did not speak directly to me or about me.

I thought that there was only one reasonable explanation: my house was haunted.

Eventually I moved out at age twenty to go to university, and I couldn’t wait to leave my haunted house. My first semester at university was fine, which further convinced me of the existence of ghosts as the explanation for everything I had seen and heard. But one day, as I got up early in the morning for one of my lectures, a face began to form right in front of me, then proceeded to drip and melt as if it were made of wax. I then began to think that it wasn’t my family home that was haunted, it was me.

I eventually quit university because of my deteriorating mental health, and I doubted I would have passed anyway with all the missed lectures due to increasingly frequent psychotic episodes. The voices began to change: they became more individual and distinct, and said negative things about me and to me, telling me that I was worthless, nobody liked me or cared about me and that I should just kill myself. Unsurprisingly, I was plagued by anxiety, depression and exhaustion. When I first started university I had made plenty of friends, but I soon started to withdraw and eventually became so isolated that I spent most of my time in my room and barely spoke to anyone.

Eventually I worked out that there were mental illnesses with psychosis as a symptom, and I no longer believed in ghosts, but being mentally ill was a far more terrifying prospect and I continued to keep it to myself.

For years I was too afraid to confide in anyone or to seek help, but I was finally inspired to speak out by writer friends in the writers’ group I regularly attend, who shared their poetry and short fiction about mental health. In October 2016, a friend asked me to read a piece of my writing at a public event for Worcestershire LitFest and Fringe on the theme of mental health. The piece was called A Ghost Story, about my journey with psychosis, and I’ve since performed it again at Acts of Searching Closely festival in London (2016). The first time speaking about my experiences of psychosis in front of the public was scary; I was afraid that I would be judged negatively, but I was surprised at the positive reaction. Lots of people spoke to me afterwards, asking about psychosis and revealing that their family member or friend had had a similar experience.

I now run a performance collective called Brain Cocaine, and our work is inspired by our own experiences of mental illness and healing from trauma. We specialise in performances for individuals or small groups that aim to raise awareness and to help audiences tackle their own traumas and mental health issues in a positive and therapeutic way. I have discovered that talking and making performance work about my mental illness is not only cathartic for me, but also helpful for others around me. I make relatively little money from it at present, but the thing that keeps me getting up to drive to London in the early hours of the morning to do a big show are the individuals who have said that my performance has helped them to overcome their difficulties and has made them realise that they are not alone. It is very much worth it.

I have never gotten much out of counselling, but now my work has become my form of therapy, and has also begun to shape my life in a significant way. While I feel I have lost out on many opportunities in life because of my illness, my performance work has taken me across the country to festivals and events and has given me a new passion in life. When my mental health started to seriously deteriorate, I never imagined that I would have the courage to talk about my feelings, let alone have an audience of hundreds of people want to listen. I like to believe that there is a silver lining to the negative things we have to endure in life, and I can honestly say that without having experienced depression, anxiety or psychosis, I would have a lot less to write about and could have never made the majority of my work. The fact that my psychotic episodes have had a positive contribution to my life helps me to accept my illness and makes the difficult periods far easier to deal with.

I am now on medication that works to control my psychosis, and find that the very rare episodes I experience now are related to extreme stress, and I have to be mindful of how much pressure I put myself under. I returned to university and graduated with a first-class degree, and now hold down a regular day job beside my performance work, and for the majority of days, I live a perfectly normal life. I believe that if more people experiencing psychosis were to speak out, especially about their successes, then we can change the way society views the illness and help people to realise that we are perfectly normal people who sometimes hear voices.

 

References
McGrath, JJ, et al. 2016. Age of Onset and Lifetime Projected Risk of Psychotic Experiences: Cross-National Data from the World Mental Health Survey. Schizophrenia Bulletin. Electronic source available online: https://academic.oup.com/schizophreniabulletin/article/42/4/933/2414019/Age-of-Onset-and-Lifetime-Projected-Risk-of#82207353
Mind. 2016. Psychosis. Electronic source available online: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis/about-psychosis/#.We3LrmhSzIU

Links
Brain Cocaine – www.braincocaine.com
A Ghost Story. Gilda Lockheart. 2016. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33IV6L-nsHA
Video credit to Acts of Searching Closely.
Image from performance of “Born To Die” at Worcestershire LitFest and Fringe 2017

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog.

This week’s blog post is from HJ – our very own… well, we’ll let her tell you! Writing on how to support those with anxiety

Hi! I’m HJ, a 27 year old thingymabob and Freedom of Mind’s PR Coord. I have had severe anxiety since I was 4 years old. It is not triggered by social situations, however I can draw parallels to the feelings when describing social anxiety. Everyone is different, but I have decided to write a ‘how to…’ article, drawn from my own experiences, to shed light on how to look after those in an anxious state.

Enjoy, and always be kind. X   

Don’t laugh about the situation, until it’s calmed down, and then stay light.

It sounds so simple writing it down, but we live in a world with a very ‘laugh it off’, ‘yolo’ or ‘soldier on’ attitude. This is a fleeting, quick fix attitude that resolves nothing. Don’t laugh at the person, even if it’s meant innocently. Take it seriously, and then when they have got to a better place, try and crack a smile about something around you, or something that happened unrelated to this current attack. It’s not all doom and gloom.

 

Take responsibility

This one is a slightly trickier concept, but one I am most familiar with and need to stop. Do not blame someone’s anxiety as being the problem if you yourself have done something to cause someone’s upset – take responsibility for your actions. Also, if you are the one with anxiety, don’t think it’s automatically your fault – it’s not always (I’m still learning) people are always allowed to feel anxious. People like to shift blame, and there’s no easier way than doing so on a vulnerable platform of anxiousness. But check-in on your actions – is this the person’s anxious fault, or have you been a bit of a naughty human? A lot of the time my anxiety stems from something quite real.

 

Don’t say ‘calm down’.

…or don’t say anything obvious at all. Listen buddy old pal, wouldn’t it be lovely if I could just calm down?! Then we wouldn’t have this mess in the first place – I’m not an idiot. I recently got told ‘you shouldn’t think about that right now.’ I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes you can’t control your thoughts. So instead of ‘stop’, try and calm the person down so it comes to a natural halt once they’ve taken back control.

 

Ask the person to explain what the matter is

If they can, let them talk, talk, talk. And LISTEN. Do not interject their outlet with power speeches and strategies. You cannot read people’s minds, so clearly and calmly ask if they could let you know what is going on in their mind.

 

Keep your calm for them, and step by step explain what’s going on.

This can come after step 4. If you can imagine everyone having a bottle in their tummy labelled ‘calmness’. When someone is anxious, their bottle is empty. If yours is full of calm, or you have some spare – fill their bottle up. Be outwardly calm. Fear drives fear. Calm explanations are a perfect way to distribute calmness from one to another. I will never forget when I was in India, I was so scared of a bus journey I was on. Someone held my hand and so calmly said ‘can you explain what you’re scared of?’, after listening and remaining un-phased, she explained what was going on right now, through the perspective of a calm eye, so that I could see a different perspective, and be reminded to stay present. (Thank you, forever.)

 

Reassurance NOT attention.

I spoke with a table of wonderful people about this the other month. It was regarding relationships, but I realised I could apply this to anxiety. We were debating the difference between people that need ‘attention’ in a relationship (‘You look beautiful’, ‘I’m looking at a bunch of girls right now and no one compares FYI’(?!), ‘I’m so lucky to have you’, ‘Have you SEEN this girl/boy?! She’s MINE.’), compared to the people who need reassurance (‘I love you’, ‘You’re doing a great job’, ‘Everything’s cool’, ‘How are you?’) It’s a soft line of difference. But it’s something easily grasped with emotional maturity and intelligence. Anxiety isn’t looking for someone to be attached to them the whole time and to make a spectacle of. It’s quite the opposite. I’ll need reassurance, NOT attention.

If necessary, distract.

On the same bus journey I was talking of previously, someone else in my group got me to sit away from the window (I was afraid of what was going on outside) and we put a blanket around us and watched a funny movie. She was cracking up (she was Canadian and hadn’t seen something as British as ‘Four weddings and a funeral’ before) Her laughter and watching something else, while creating a soft, safe environment (blankets have always been a winner for me!), gave me a sense of calm. (Thanks again, I was lucky on that trip, ey.)

 

Be honest, and be honest in what you can give them.

Dishonesty is probably my biggest trigger to my adult anxiousness. If you crack my trust, you give space for self-doubt, over-thinking and anxiety to get through. Please don’t get to the point where you say, ‘I didn’t want to say anything to worry you.’ Lies worry me, not truth. Once you lie, it becomes a constant guessing game. Do not tell people what they want to hear, they are not idiots (quite the opposite, they are normally hyper-observant). Tell them what’s real, in a convincing calm way – I promise it’ll make you feel better, too.

 

Stay patient.

I don’t think I need to go into this point much more. There will be a time when they’re not as anxious, but if you think you’re going to cure someone’s anxiousness with one 5 minute PowerPoint explaining how great they are, then go and try and build Rome in a day. Ciao.  

 

It is fucking tough. Grow some.

I have a huge admiration for people that stick by their loved ones during anxious moments. I can only imagine how exhausting and tough it is. It is not for the faint-hearted. Here, I would like to thank my family and friends that do so.

I would also like to stress the element of ‘grow some’. To kill stigmatization as it stands, we cannot treat it as a weak and defeatist element of a character, and to pander to that. I never want anyone to make excuses for me just because I carry anxiety in my backpack sometimes. Surely, we are the strongest if we have more weight to carry sometimes?

 

…And remember the light.

To put it in ways you may understand: If you want abs, you’ve got to put hours in the gym, and your abdominals are going to hurt a lot of the time. If you want a 100k job, you’ve got to put in the hours. If you want to see the world for real, you’ve got to stop drinking buckets in Thailand and go and sit on the streets with the children dying from poverty. If you want a nice meal – you’ve got to put the time in to create it.

You see where I’m going with this? If you want to be an extra-sensational person – you’ve got to have your pain, and your difficulties. If you want to love an extra-special smile, you’ve got to understand how hard it is to get that smile in the first place.

 

If it’s you – remember your light. If you’re loving someone else – remember their light. It’s a thing.

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog.

In his poem “A day at a time” Tom Burgess explores how it feels to want to reach out. But we’ll let him explain it better..

This poem is an anomaly for I do not write anymore, or at least that is what I have been telling myself. Capturing thoughts and sensations is a challenge, there was a time when I called myself a poet, certainly I used to love attempting to communicate my experiences through poetry. I always enjoyed the abstract nature of a poem and its capacity for multiple and deep meaning making. However after a period of psychosis, where I was immersed in a state of utter confusion and loneliness, I could not put pen to paper. It was as though the rug had been pulled out from underneath me and nothing I could say had any meaning.

As I have been traveling the hard road of recovery through anxiety and depression I have tried to reclaim my love for writing, slowly I am writing again. I have been struggling to express myself and share my experiences this creates a profound feeling of isolation, even in company.

This poem was written out of the desire to express the depth of feeling in me and a longing to reach out and share something incomprehensible, asking all the while ‘am I the only one?’ knowing I am not. Poetry is good for bringing thoughts into the light, when I write from this place I am mindful of the beat generations mantra ‘first thought best thought’, to write in such a way can open the flood gates and be cathartic.

A day at a time

Again
I am lying in the foetal position
Oblivions scrutiny screws with me
Such chaos leaves nothing to trust
Inner cold claims every good thing
Wounded by sudden thoughts
Headlines designed as weapons
In icy focus
Internal entanglement an insatiable trap
There is nothing I can say
I cry out with gibberish trying to sidestep language
Longing to utter answers unknown
Loosen the bonds and speak truth to desperation

Eventually sleep
With it the secret ordering of my mind
The morning a cave
To carve out the future again

 

Check out Tom’s blog here. You can purchase his poetry collection “Paint Yourself” online.

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog.

In this guest post, writer and life coach Laura Jane McKeown shares her journey with PTSD and how it’s lead to her creating positive change in both her life, and the lives of others.

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This blog post comes from Cai Burton, our Marketing and Comms Manager. We wanted to share about the progress that we’ve made so far and where we’re going next.

I’ve been lucky enough to see Freedom of Mind develop from very small beginnings, into the reality it is now.

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• “The Standing Eight Count” by Luke

4 October

by Freedom Of Mind

Blogs

This weeks blog post comes from Luke, who wanted to write about the relationship between his mental health and Muay Thai (a form of boxing). He talks openly about his own journey…

TW: Cancer, suicidal thoughts, depression.

There you stand, hazy and confused after taking a relentless barrage of blows. There’s an eerie silence and you become acutely aware you are all alone. No one to save you. The referee in your face, his expert eyes casting judgment on your ability to continue…the count rising…’5! 6! 7!’…pressure building…it’s now or never.

But what if your head doesn’t clear, you can’t get your breath back or your legs will no longer support you. What if there’s no fight left in you?

It felt like I had lost my fight one miserable winter’s afternoon.

On my way to work I found myself crying, walking towards an oncoming train at Mile End station with an uncontrollable desire to jump. Sure, I’d thought of suicide before – on a daily basis in fact. Hell, I’d even planned where I’d blissfully hang and where I’d buy the rope. The thought of death seemed so serene to me I almost longed for it. Yet never had the urge become so strong that my body was acting upon it. This was when I knew I needed to seek help and fast. I screamed out loud ‘NO, NO, NO. STOP!’, people looked at me strangely, I ran out of the station and began my road to recovery.

For a while I knew something peculiar was occurring and the clock was ticking, but I’d always dismiss it with the good old Yorkshire belief that ‘tha’ll be reet’. I was just being soft I’d tell myself. On reflection I was far from ‘reet’ and after a series of consultations with a psychologist it transpired my mind had been silently battling itself for a very long time.

Roughly 8 years ago I had a choice to make, give up fighting or watch my degree slip away. It was a painful pill to swallow but I begrudgingly chose to stop competing in Muay Thai. This inevitably led to me skipping training and embracing the standard student lifestyle of drink, drugs and parties. For a while I really enjoyed it, properly loved it – these vices are simply not available to you as a fighter and I was reveling in it.

However there’s a fine line when you lead this lifestyle and I’d embarked on it almost out of spite at not being able to do what I loved. For that reason it began to spiral. It became a habit and not a choice. I had kind of submitted to the fact I didn’t need to look after myself anymore, what was the point? – I wasn’t going to fight again.

Then the cancer struck.

Instantly my life was turned upside down. It’s the worst possible thing you can ever hear. After a couple of surgeries and months of recovery the cancer had gone, the doctor told me I was “fine”. Physically I was, there’s no denying that, but mentally I wasn’t. Again, I’d give off this persona of a strong Yorkshire lad and dismiss my concerns, but inside I was a ruin. From therein I was drinking and abusing my body not to have fun, but to escape. Reality scared me.

I had zero desire for anything anymore. Literally nothing. I became uncharacteristically short-tempered and very defensive of my idiotic behavior. Strains in relationships with people started surfacing, particularly with my girlfriend, as I tried to isolate myself and things were quickly spiraling out of control. Isn’t it strange how we neglect those closest to us in times of despair?

The tipping point came as a culmination of factors – drink, drugs, emerging relationship issues, no self-respect and ultimately the lack of desire to live. The stresses of a PhD life served to amplify this deeper unrest and in a back-handed way I should be grateful to the PhD for that – it ultimately led me to that horrible situation on the tube platform. It’s an experience I will never forget and hopefully never revisit.

Through seeing a psychologist I learned a lot about my past and how that affected my present. I also learned techniques on how to approach and overcome the shit that life will undoubtedly throw at you. The therapy brought balance to my life and also guided me back to Muay Thai.

I may not be an active fighter anymore, but Muay Thai has been in my blood since the first time I stepped into the gym at the age of 14. The musky smell of sweat mingling with the sharp scent of Thai oil. The satisfying crack as someone smacks the pads. The shouts of ‘oooee’ in admiration of a well-executed technique. The camaraderie and jovial banter. The positivity. All this feels like home to me, indeed I class my fellow stablemates and coaches as family. Muay Thai has shaped me into the man I am today and I owe an incredible amount to the sport. It is my source of serenity, I now realise that and It’s comforting to be back.

Looking at the bigger picture, perhaps my experiences with depression were beneficial, clearly my lifestyle choices needed addressing and I needed guidance in life. Perhaps depression is an evolved mechanism that triggers change. After all there is no light without dark…It’s safe to say this is only true if people speak up and seek help, else they may never see the light.

That said, it’s important for us as a society to understand and be supportive. It’s everybody’s responsibility to recognise the signs of depression so people don’t suffer alone. We are pack animals, we have always and will always rely on each other for success.

Professional help saved my life.
Muay Thai has given me life.

I have a long road ahead, but I’m once again proud to be alive.

My fight is back, hands are up, head is cleared, I’ve nodded to the referee…let me back at it!

If you feel personally affected by any of the issues, please visit our talking and support page for more help, or use the “I need help now” button at the top of the page.

Illustration for this piece was created by Ed Leeds.

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog in the lead up to the 2017 festival.

For this guest blog post, Colin Moody writes about how he see’s mental health and austerity overlap in his life and what needs to change for things to improve.

Austerity is bad for your mental health.

Do you feel alone? Depressed? Stressed? You may be suffering from austerity or the more recent strain of austerity fatigue. Both are bad for your mental health. Bad for all of us.

Let’s start with the root causes. I’d like to tell you how to light candles and attend some sensory stimulation classes but what we need to do here is to deal with the root causes.

I present the news and host shows on the One Love Breakfast on BCFM radio. Over the last few years I’ve seen many people come in to the studio to tell tales of how bad austerity has affected them and I hope to share some of that with you. Their individual responses include a huge strain on their mental wellbeing as more and more of the basic services they rely upon are being taken away. Connections they rely upon are being severed. People, I am told, are dying of austerity. Taking their own lives. Or even being asked whilst in fragile states in cubicles inside community buildings whether they have considered killing themselves. Just an hour of mental health awareness training and that question would be seen for what it is. Damaging.

And that’s what I see. People who have had their mental health damaged with no sign of support to repair it.

While we mostly get people who are tirelessly working with ever dwindling resources to satisfy that human instinct to help those who need support, it is the tales of stress that worry me most. Tales of people choosing between food or heating in the winter. Mothers who cannot afford to feed their children during the school holidays whilst the free school dinners are not available. Stories of care workers whose hands are tied to spending such short time with clients that they say it does not allow them to do their job. To care. All these stories have one thing in common. They reduce self worth, health and are generally damaging to more than just the ‘service user’ as there are dependents often involved effected indirectly. So the effects of austerity and the cuts is a huge pyramid of suffering.

We are a collection of societies that need to interact, to be communal and it is the access to and the running of these communal spaces which is threatened now. How bad will it get down the line after all those youth services are taken away. I can already imagine headlines about youth and their behaviour but the root causes are not discussed. Not by mainstream media. Not looking back to those missing school meals and no where to hang out and interact with wider society, no place to know their own self worth. And the more austerity bites the more headlines will react to people’s reactions and eventually that killer second stage…

I call it Austerity Fatigue.

Maybe you have seen “I, Daniel Blake”? Well, the narrative is being played out and, as Ken Loach told an audience in Bristol last year, “there were so many stories we could have used…”

But austerity fatigue means that you don’t really connect to the issue Daniel faces any more out of self defence for your own mental wellbeing. How damaging is this long term. Even people who are facing terrible hardship directly are feeling this. Something switches off because it’s just so horrible. We, at the show, had a man who wanted to talk to us about how sanctions had affected him and his wellbeing but after several emails and conversations he simply said it was all too much and did not get back in contact. We tried so carefully to make sure he could speak anonymously and in confidence. But it was not something he could do.

Are we broken by austerity? And austerity fatigue?
No.

Because ignoring the root causes goes against everything we are as human beings. With the exception perhaps of a few highly individualistic MPs I can think of, mostly in the cabinet.

We need to fix things. We need to make things right. Maybe you are giving a few hours here or there to a charity or group? That is making a difference. That doesn’t just change the mental wellbeing of the people you’re helping, but yours too.

We, it seems to me, are forming new ways to tell ourselves stories about how we are and what defines us. What we value is shifting. This is good. Good for mental health.

There is no money and cuts are getting harder, but people who were forced to cooperate to survive are reaching out to those who need it and it may just save us all. Connected and united we are strong and it feels like I’m laying down new connections in my brain the more I engage with people, new groups, new activities.

So if you feel like you have austerity fatigue or are on the receiving end of some of that original hurtful austerity then reach out to those around you. Look out for people in your community. Attend the Freedom of Mind Festival. Develop some new ways of thinking that might improve your mental health. You won’t do it alone.

We’ve got a long way to go and people are suffering in horrendous isolation still but people are starting to talk about their mental state now openly, and this once begun takes us on a journey unlike any I can think of being on before.

Our society will change from the mind up if we get this right. A society with strong mental health is unstoppable. And maybe one day a politician will have the audacity to stand up in parliament and praise austerity for how it kick started a social revolution of positive change towards strong mental health.

So come to the Freedom of Mind Festival and start a journey. One that will start in your head but take your body on a path you had no idea existed.

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog in the lead up to the 2017 festival.

We are so excited that Bristol is going to be hosting Peerfest this year. We wanted to talk a bit about what that means…

Conversation. It’s the first of Freedom of Mind’s three main aims,  (conversation, education and change) for a good reason. Talking about issues and problems that we are experiencing is an important step in our journey towards better mental health. If we bottle up our problems we can often lose out on valuable support and end up feeling frustrated and isolated.

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