Blog

August 2018 - Freedom of Mind

Mel is a YouTuber who talks often about body positivity. In this video, she shares about how her mental health has affected her body image.

I’m Mel Ciavucco and I make body image and self-esteem YouTube videos. I totally support body positivity and think that we should all love our bodies, but sometimes I feel like the biggest hypocrite ever. I’ve struggled with body image and self-esteem issues, and anxiety, all my life. But I’m on a journey to try to be kinder to myself. I’d love you to join me!

 

In this video I talk about how body image issues and anxious thoughts have impacted my life, and I share some of my tips and coping strategies too.

 

 

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 piece, Ruth explains why LGBT+ visibility is important and what affect positive representation can have on your mental health.

It is a basic human instinct to desire acceptance, this is something we all value to some extent or other. We want to belong and fit in, be that in our family or among our friends and colleagues, and especially in society as a whole. It matters how people view and think of us, and their perceptions of us can seriously affect our self-image. Certainly, when growing up and going through the school system, a lot of us feel the need to sandpaper ourselves down to fit the mould and get in with the popular crowd. Otherwise, you risk losing friends and being viewed as the outcast in your year.

And it is this feeling of being alone that can have a huge negative impact on your mental health.

When you constantly hear that you are an outcast, that you don’t belong anywhere, and that who you are is somehow wrong, you begin to believe it and your self-esteem goes crashing through the floor. In a frantic attempt to be accepted, you go through the exhausting process of crushing down those parts of yourself that you think might result in your rejection.

As someone who grew up LGBT+, this was what I did for most of my childhood, and still do now when in some environments. It was internalising other people’s homophobia that led to a serious decline in my mental health. And this is a common experience of a lot of LGBT+ people. Yes, we may have come forward hugely in terms of LGBT+ rights since the Stonewall riots of 1969 and the growth of the gay liberation movement that ensued. Yet society still shuns those who are LGBT+, particularly trans and genderqueer people, and homophobia and transphobia are prevalent in the workplace and our public institutions.

This has a huge effect on the mental health of LGBT+ people, and even how they interact with health services.

The statistics are, quite frankly, shocking. LGBT+ people are 3 times more likely to experience a mental health condition than cisgender straight people. Research done by Stonewall found that 52% of young LGBT+ people have self-harmed at some point in their lives. In one survey of LGBT+ people, over half of the respondents experienced discrimination based on their sexuality or gender identity when attempting to access healthcare, and nearly 30% of trans respondents had postponed or avoided medical care due to fear of discrimination.

Creating a society and environment that is positive, open, and caring is so key to people staying mentally healthy. And to do so, we must take a stand against the prejudice and rejection that LGBT+ people face today in our society.

A huge part of tackling this prejudice is LGBT+ representation and visibility.

The personal impact of visibility is huge. Seeing an LGBT+ MP, sportsperson or actor is so important; it provides you with a role model and can make you feel empowered in your identity. You feel a greater sense of belonging in society, and this can even aid people to come out, which can lift a huge weight off your shoulders. When I was facing homophobia and really struggling with being in the closet, seeing LGBT+ characters on my favourite TV show and LGBT+ people in Parliament really highlighted to me that, despite what I was hearing, my identity was nothing to be ashamed of.

Even just a small speck of positivity and pride in who you are can be something to hold onto and boost your mental health and self-esteem, however slightly.

LGBT+ representation and visibility can also have a transformative effect on society, helping to create that wider environment for LGBT+ people that is conducive to good mental health. The more that public figures talk about their experiences as an LGBT+ person, the less that our community seems taboo. It highlights that we are not some ‘scandalous minority’ but are just normal people. Instead of our community being put in a box on the fringes of acceptable society, visibility and representation can challenge this and bring being LGBT+ down to a base level.

This is such a vital and important concept to introduce into society.

This highlights that sexuality and gender identity are not a choice; it is okay and, in fact, normal to identify other than cisgender or heterosexual. And this is what challenges the divisive narrative that sets the LGBT+ community apart from the rest of society and breeds the distrust and prejudice that is so damaging to the mental health of LGBT+ people.

But representation is not good enough.

We need positive representation that does not promote or adhere to dangerous stereotypes that can in fact be more damaging to the LGBT+ community than silence.

Currently, there is a certain perception of LGBT+ people in movies and TV shows. We constantly see the stereotype of gay men being promiscuous and lesbians being manipulative misandrists. LGBT+ characters are frequently written as one-dimensional, with their sexuality or gender identity being their one defining characteristic. Lesbians in particular are portrayed as tragic figures, with a worrying trend of lesbian characters being killed off. Not only does this give society a horribly skewed picture of the LGBT+ community, which can feed into the prejudice that is already present, but it has a hugely negative influence on the way LGBT+ people perceive themselves. Media should be used to empower, not put LGBT+ people in boxes and reinforce the negative stereotypes placed on them by society. It is positive representation that builds up that pride in your identity that is so important to keeping mentally healthy.

So how can we as a society ensure that we see positive LGBT+ representation in the media?

  • Support both media created by LGBT+ people as well as media which has LGBT+ content. A keen market will mean that companies will be more likely to fund diverse media, and there will be more opportunities for LGBT+ stories to be told.
  • Call people out if they are presenting problematic stereotypes in their media, and if you are creating your own media, check your work to ensure that you are not inadvertently adding to the prejudice that the LGBT+ community faces.
  • Write your LGBT+ characters as multidimensional people, whose stories are so much bigger than a tragic coming out. Everyone is so much more complex and interesting than just their sexuality and gender identity.
  • Lastly, and arguably most importantly, empower LGBT+ people to join the media industry, to write, produce, direct and entertain. They have experienced the world through the eyes of an LGBT+ person, and know how they wish their stories to be told.

It is simply not good enough that on average an LGBT+ person is more likely to experience a period of poor mental health than a cisgender straight person.

But with visibility combined with the positive representation of LGBT+ people in the media, we can truly empower the LGBT+ community to be who they are without shame. Our voices and stories can tackle the prejudice inherent in society. Ultimately, by challenging the stereotypes and fighting division, this can help people become more accepting of the LGBT+ community, and encourage LGBT+ people to love and have pride in who they are, and thus create a positive, open, and caring society that is not only hugely beneficial to the mental health of LGBT+ people, but the mental health of all of us.

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 piece – Emily reflects on how running has helped her mental health, and what this latest roadblock means for her.

 

Exercise releases endorphins.
Endorphin [noun] ‘Any of a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system and having a number of physiological functions. They are peptides which activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect.’ (Oxford Dictionaries | English, 2018)

 

Endorphins make you happy. They can have a similar effect as morphine, reducing your perception of pain; however, unlike morphine, you cannot become dependent on endorphins. Nor can you become addicted.

So why do we repeat the activities that become tiresome and draining? That are painful and impossible?

Because once we’ve had the experience, we crave endorphin, the hormone that makes us happy.

I am a rollercoaster of countless attempts at becoming what I desire to be. Sometimes achieving, sometimes failing, but forever aiming to reach my goals. I am a creature of habit, but yet again, aren’t we all? It doesn’t take much for me to be absorbed into the Instagram fantasy of ‘Women’s Health’ dreams. But nevertheless, a downward spiral of regret and hate which always follows an off track few days, is never far away.

Recently I have experienced a new challenge which has physically prevented me from training: injury.

Even though the injury is a very physical prevention, the mental hurdles which follow are just as challenging. I have been unable to maintain my half marathon training plan and haven’t ran any distance in over a month. This challenge has come at the worst time, just two months before I run to raise money and awareness for something so close to my heart. It’s been a challenging five weeks experiencing emotions of anger, sadness and frustration. I am still angry at myself, but I accept. Acceptance has come from moving the goalposts. My original idea of success was completing the distance in a certain time. After understanding healing takes time and is out of my control, I know this is no longer a reachable goal for me.

My challenge now lies with building my knee to be strong enough to withstand 13.1 miles of impact and my body to sustain this endurance without the training I had planned.

I have come to learn what my ‘triggers’ are which lead to my view of personal failure. I work well with routine. If I know I have time to exercise, or what I will be eating the next day, this often leaves little room for distraction. However, left to my own devices my decisions can lead to those I will later regret. I have become accustomed to ‘self-help’ mechanisms I have adapted into my life to help me stay on track. I record my food in ‘my fitness pal’ app to keep an eye on what I consume, I wear a Fitbit to log my exercise and no longer take my purse to work to prevent the 3pm binge. I find having a plan and an understanding of what my body and mind needs helps manage my motivation.

I am a tried and tested prototype of the affects activity and diet can have on the way you are and your outlook on every aspect in your life. I not only despise the way I look and feel when I don’t have my diet and activity levels in my control, but I feel I lose myself. I no longer enjoy the things I enjoy. I lack motivation and a sense of care or purpose. I spend my days wishing for the new start to come the following morning. As soon as that day is ‘broken’ and I’ve failed my eating or exercise goals, I’m wishing for my next clean slate. The days become weeks and weeks, months. I no longer enjoy, I don’t see the good in all. I don’t appreciate.

When I am in control of my diet and exercise, I work, I am me.

I am a loving, caring person who sees the good in everything. I embrace my day and look forward to things. I enjoy the moment, not wishing for another chance to come. I take pleasure in my accomplishments and am proud of who I am.

The morale of the story is simple. I sound like a drink awareness advert mixed with a theory PE lesson. Eat and drink responsibly and move as much as you can. But putting this into practice can be the challenging part.

It is the challenging part.

For me, I know my way to a better, more positive, metal place. Balance. My life needs balance. Without balance I lose purpose and without purpose, I am not me.

Support Emily with her run in order to raise money for Freedom of Mind here: https://www.goldengiving.com/fundraising/bristolhalfmarathonforfreedomofmind

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 Blog Post by Taya Bryant, they write about their own experience with recovering from mental ill health, and how it has impacted their relationships.

It all started for my second year of university, Doctors classified me with depression. However, my mental health didn’t just affect me, but it affected my relationship with families and friends. I kept having arguments with my mother because she didn’t understand. It broke up my love interest relationship because he felt I was ‘too insecure’ with myself and I became distant. I closed off my friends, family and even strangers. My friends noticed how distant I became and even though they would offer to listen, I found it hard to approach them for help.

When I started medicine for my depression, I felt like I was the most distant from everyone. I didn’t speak to anyone for months, not even a text throughout the day as it caused me to go inwards on myself. I didn’t see anyone or go out of the house for weeks. I even lost some friendships because they thought I was ignoring them. This all spiralled and made me feel even worse.

Every individual had different methods to help them keep their mental health stable. Whilst medication didn’t work for me, one service that helped was OTR Bristol (Off the Record). OTR is an organisation that supports young people (ages 11-25) living in Bristol and South Gloucestershire to improve their mental health. They have a wide range of services, from expressing your emotions through art, going on walks, workshops, book clubs and discussions for parents who want to understand their child’s struggle, but I settled on their free one-to-one counselling and “Mind Aid” course

The six weeks counselling helped me process my feelings and actually made me realise methods I already had when I felt an anxiety attack coming on. The counselling sessions helped me talk to my closest of friends; as if talking to stranger was a mini-step for me to talk to people whom I care for. It is always feels like a struggle talk to friends, but once you start and you realise they are there for you, you know there is nothing to be scared about.

Mind Aid was similar to a group therapy; it helped me see that I wasn’t alone in my time of need, and that others were going through a similar situation with me. It was good opportunity to hear other people’s stories and their methods. There were two good techniques Mind Aid taught me that I will forever keep.

One was the breathing and listening technique.

If you felt like your mind is overflowing with thoughts, you would stop what you’re doing, take a deep breathe, just listen to your surroundings, and focus on sounds instead of the thoughts racing through your mind. This was difficult at first, as my mind would get distracted after 2 seconds and go back to the thoughts. But my mentor told me this was normal and all I had to do is take another breath and try again. It’s a short technique but whenever I was in crowded places and felt a bit overwhelmed this technique saved me.

Another technique I have is timetabling a routine (only small one).

For example, I would start by planning a 15 minute walk every Tuesday. As the weeks went on I added more and more to the weekly routine and whenever I completed a week without going off rota I would treat myself. To help you make your own routine, start by making a list of what makes you happy. Let’s say baking pies makes you happy, so once a week you would add bake a pie in one of your weekly rotas. It gave me a sense of goal and purpose for my week, which in result helped me feel more like me.

My self-esteem started to build; I actually started to think more positive thoughts and overall just started to feel more like myself. I am not saying I am “all confidence” now – I’m not, and I still have moments of anxiety taking over. But I can now take small risks without over thinking or feeling overwhelmed (Example- going to a job interview or presentation coming up). I focus more on my skills and likes compared to my dislikes and that’s a big step for me personally.

Most importantly, I’ve started to gain a relationship with myself again.

I’m more able to start trying to build up the relationships around me. My relationships still have a long way to go, as everything always does, however I have a group of friends who I feel supported by every second. It’s even beginning to improve my relationships with my family, and time will tell how that improves.

One of my close friends has helped me the most, even now. I ring him whenever I am feeling even a little bit of sadness and he helps me process my emotions, supports me and understands how I think. He has such a kind and calm matter, it’s like I absorb it when I feel a panic attack coming along. I will always appreciate the timing of when we become close and can’t think of it in any other way now.

It was hard and it took over 6 months to even have a tiny bit of positivity within me again. But with patience, anyone can overcome any situation and help others be aware about mental health and the struggles and stigma that come with it. Just don’t give up.

For more of Taya’s work, check out her blog.

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.


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