The theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is Anxiety, so we've asked some of our fantastic mental health advocates, speakers and team members to share about their experiences for our blog. Here you can learn a little more about their journey's with mental health challenges, how they ended up where they are now and maybe even something they've learned along the way.
We're starting with a message from Hannah-Jane Smith, one of our amazing workshop leaders and speakers who's a mental health advocate with three decades of lived experience within the system.
TW: Mentions of mental health/illness/suicide ideation
Hi, I’m HJ. I’ve had a severe anxiety disorder from the tiny age of four years old. It’s important to say first and foremost, that anxiety is a normal emotion, and should be welcomed in the spectrum of life. It was created to keep us safe from the lions – and its stuck around since. However, when anxiety takes over your life and clouds your vision day-to-day, it may be considered as a disorder or mental illness.
I have spent over three decades within the mental health system, fighting battles, competing with stigma, and trying to find the support that fits me best, so that I could live a life without perpetual fear. I have worked through both medical and psychosocial models of support with wavering degrees of success.
During my journey, I have spoken to hundreds of professionals, worked with people that have felt the same, and found a voice in the world, sharing what it’s really like to have anxiety from the inside out, and what helps. I wanted to eradicate the tick-box nature within mental health, and I wanted everyone to feel seen. And so, my consultancy business was born.
In times like Mental Health Awareness week, I am often asked what I would give as my greatest piece of advice. The answer?
If you are supporting someone, put the tips, tricks, and distractions down and listen, without adding any thoughts of your own. Ask them open-ended questions like ‘how does that make you feel?’, or ‘how can I support you?’. They may not know the answers, but maybe you could figure it out together over time.
And if you are going through it right now, my biggest tip is hope. Keep the hope that it will get better. If I could tell the younger version of me who got kicked out of the school system, who dealt with suicide ideation far too young and became physically sick from her own mind what she was doing now, I’m not quite sure she would believe me…
Keep going. From one to another - the future's so bright.