Meet the young women tackling mental health stigmas

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WORLD Mental Health Awareness Day is a very important day but with mental health issues affecting so many lives across the UK, it is important that the dialogue is kept open regardless of the day.

Whilst mental health issues don’t discriminate against who they affect, young women and girls are amongst some of the worst hit, with a recent statistic stating that 1 in 4 girls have depression by the time they reach 14. This statistic highlights why it is so important that we do not stop talking about the reality of mental health.

Social media is the place most young people turn to get their information, which is why it is the perfect platform to provide safe spaces for talking about this important issue. Meet just some of the inspirational young women breaking down the stereotypes and stigmas of mental health issues one blog post at a time.

Nicole Woodward, 18, originally started her blog to talk about fashion, but soon turned her focus to talking about issues such as mental health. Nicole was diagnosed with OCD and depression in 2016, and believes it is important to educate the general public about the realities of mental illness, especially when it comes to things such as OCD and personality disorders.

She said, “People don’t realise the vast amount of different mental health problems out there, and if they do have an idea of what they are, say they think they know what OCD is, it is often incorrect, like thinking that OCD is just about being neat and tidy. We need greater awareness for things like personality disorders, Bipolar, psychosis and schizophrenia.”

The sheer value of being able to share your story and talk about your experiences online is something that is clearly of great importance to Nicole. She explains that there is a growing community of people on social media who are providing a safe and supportive space for each other to talk more candidly about their mental illness.

She said, “There is always going to be negatives of social media but I think that there is a community emerging online, who aren’t using social media to portray this perfect life but instead using it to educate, raise awareness and talk about how their life isn’t always perfect and how mental health amongst other things can have a significant impact on them.”

Using social media to talk about mental health is such a valuable tool as it allows the dialogue to open up between people, and behind a computer screen, people often feel a lot more able to be honest. As a successful and popular blogger, Nicole often gets a lot of feedback from her followers. She explains that sometimes it makes her sad that so many other people are suffering from mental health problems but that knowing she is educating people is really lovely.

She said, “Blogging and being so open about mental health online is so rewarding.”

Ellyse Raffkin, 24, created her blog with the intent to share advice with people who are struggling with mental health problems. As someone with a passion for raising awareness of this important issue as well as personal experiences with depression, anxiety and an eating disorder, Ellyse felt she was in a good position to help others who may be struggling.

She said, “Mental illness can be an isolating place to be and I know from personal experience that I seek some degree of solace and comfort in discovering that I am not the only one who has been in that position or felt a certain way. So, I thought that if starting a blog could shine a little light of hope for even one person struggling, then it would be worth it, so I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and started writing!”

Whilst it is an undeniable fact that mental health is slowly becoming more openly discussed, Ellyse explains that on the whole she thinks that there needs to be a shift in the way we talk about mental illness as there remains to be accusing and degrading language used. She compares mental illness to physical illness, pointing out that society wouldn’t comment on physical health in the same way that they do when it comes to something like depression or an eating disorder.

She said, “Mental illness is just as important as physical illness, and therefore it shouldn’t be treated any differently.”

As a blogger, Ellyse is able to reach a vast amount of different people, giving her a great platform to raise awareness for mental health. She believes that through her blog and others like it, the stigma around mental illness can be broken down.

She said, “I truly believe that the best thing we can do to change attitudes and fight stigma is by having these open and honest conversations about mental health, so I will always be there encouraging people to keep talking!”

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Melissa, 29, initially created her blog as a lifestyle blog as she writing is always been something she enjoyed. However, over time, as her own mental health worsened, she realised the value in sharing her personal experiences to help others feel less alone.

She said, “I find that getting my thoughts down on paper so to speak can also be really help to clear my head.”

As a child, Melissa suffered from OCD and in more recent years she has struggled with depression and anxiety. Whilst she is the first to admit that she is no medical professional, she does manage to help people immensely through giving advice based on her own experiences.

She said, “I’m careful when it comes to giving advice and prefer to signpost people to professional services because everyone is different and what works for me may not work for someone else.”

Even though there can be downsides to social media when it comes to mental health, it has definitely helped raise awareness and Melissa explains that the support available online is immense. It is clear that this emerging group of young people talking openly about mental health can only be a good thing.

She said, “It allows for open conversation and helps create communities of like-minded people, and there are so many great Twitter chats for people experiencing mental illness… I’ve also made so many great friends through blogging and get messages from people fairly often from people saying that my blog has helped them, which feels amazing.”

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Lauren Evans, created her blog as an outlet to write about her mental health and process through it after she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. She believes that her mental health problems are stemmed in her pre-teen and teenage years.

She said, “This consequently makes me believe that mental health should be talked about more in primary and secondary schools.”

Expanding on this point, she explains that even though mental health is being discussed more, she feels like there is still a stigma surrounding it. The older generations are the ones who now need to be educated and encouraged to talk about their own mental health more openly, as she believes that this is where a lot of the problem lays.

She said, “Talking about it is the only way that people will stop feeling shame and guilt about any mental illnesses that they have.”

Through social media, Lauren explains that social media can be “a real life-saver” as it allows people to connect to each other and see that they are no alone. She reveals that through her blog, she has received many messages and comments from people saying that her blog as helped them. She describes this as “the best thing I could have hoped for really”.

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Stephanie Hartley, 23, runs her food and lifestyle blog with the idea that the way you eat can have a significant effect on your mental health. She explains that when she first started her blog, she was in the process of changing her diet and that in doing so, she was feeling a lot happier.

She said, “The whole concept behind ‘nourish me’ is that we need to nourish ourselves inside and out because eating well and doing things you enjoy are going to improve the way you feel.”

Whilst nourish me was born out of the idea that the right foods can help your mental health, Stephanie is open about the fact that taking antidepressants and going to therapy has been a great help in her recovery.

Talking about her journey to health, she reveals that at times she does receive messages through her blog that can be distressing, so she isn’t always able to respond. Stephanie explains that she does find it to be quite damaging at times but she does see that there are positives too.

She said,  “I feel like more people are admitting to having low days and struggling, and I really hope that it’s helping to make people feel less isolated when their mental health is playing up.”

Whilst social media and mental health are making small steps in the right direction, Stephanie feels that traditional media still has a way to go in its portrayal of mental health. She believes that one way this can be combatted is by aiming more mental health marketing towards people past the age of 30, as it is this older generation that needs more education about mental health problems.

Why not check out these awesome blogs and remember #itsoktonotbeok!

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