Today was the final day of my course to become a Youth Mental Health First Aid Instructor, with Mental Health First Aid England. So I thought it seemed apt to create a blog highlighting why I made the decision to put myself out there and take the plunge to become a trainer.
If you’d met me as a child, you wouldn’t expect anything particularly concerning to be happening. I was a smiley, over-confident kid who loved to learn. I didn’t appear in any way abnormal to my peers and seemed generally happy.
What you wouldn’t have known is that behind closed doors I lived in a house of domestic violence and psychological abuse. My father was highly controlling and often presented in a stereotypical Jekyll and Hyde manner. I spent nights in my bedroom experiencing severe anxiety whilst listening to my parent’s rows. I grew up in an environment where my emotions were pushed aside by my father’s dominant and ever-changing moods.
My father, as some of you may know, died when I was 9 years old. He’d been unwell for a number of years and as a result, I spent large portions of my childhood within the walls of hospitals, as opposed to playing with friends. I was often left out of invitations to activities outside of school and experienced some bullying.
When I moved to my secondary school, a typical state-school in a rural community, this bullying persisted for a short period. I did as I was told and approached my Head of Year about the matter, having been encouraged to by my mother. Her response?
Hmm. Well, I i behaved like you did [referring to my sensitivity to slights], I’d get bullied too. In fact, if I was your age, I’d bully you too.
I was 11 years old.
When I began to struggle with the overwhelming emotions associated with the loss of my father, who I both idolised and feared, this same teacher belittled me. She called me “pathetic” and repeatedly told me I should be “over it” by now.
Her response silenced me for years to come. Whenever I felt an intense emotion, I pushed it away. I felt all my emotions were wrong, and would be punished or dismissed. I learnt adults, who were supposed to care for me, would harm me, would make me feel stupid, and blame me for the difficulties in my life. As I result, I kept everything inside until I blew and suffered a breakdown age 19. My teacher’s responses reinforced my early life experiences (that my emotions don’t matter, and that people will harm me if I speak up) and ultimately contributed to my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.
I was struggling with my mental health and instead of receiving support, I was dismissed, blamed and mocked. And I will not allow it to happen to our young people today.
The reality is that 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year and 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem.
We know the statistics, we know about mental health, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. We need to start teaching our teachers, parents, youth workers etc. how to support our young people in need. To provide practical solutions and educate people on how to validate and support our young people. That is what MHFAEngland provides.
I am more passionate about this than anything I have done before. My experiences traumatised me and led me to dark places, but I fought my way back. Now I want to use my experiences for change, and to help make damn sure that no young person ever has to face the response I did.