Contributed by Ben Ridout, BCPSQC. Ben talks about his pledge to #GETLOUD about his mental health and the impact of his pledge.
How did you feel about sharing the story behind your Change Day pledge?
I wrote out my story at home late at night, and the next morning I woke up with a panic, like, do I really want this to go out to everyone? So it was scary to put it out there, but as soon as I saw it online, it was very empowering to me because it was out of my hands now. It was done, and then it was almost an immediate change from being scary to empowering.
What was the response you got?
I heard from other people around the Council who read it and said, “Thank you for writing that.” I had other people in my life who I had no idea dealt with anxiety or another mental health issue who came up to me and said, “Thank you for posting that, I also deal with mental health issues, and it was nice to read your story around that.” So it was a very positive experience, which was good, considering how scared I was at the start.
Do you feel like making the pledge held you accountable to it?
Yes, I feel like it did. I made that pledge during the spring. And then during the summer I had a relapse with my anxiety, and by putting it out there rather than not talking about it like I may have in the past and keeping it to myself, it felt like I had a pledge out there, and what’s the point of doing these pledges if you don’t actually do follow through on them? So I felt like I had a responsibility to talk to people and open up more, which ended up being a good thing.
Once I put it out there and made a pledge to talk about my mental health, I couldn’t hold back as much as maybe I would have in the past in talking about my mental health. And that’s sort of the point of the pledge, to talk and get it out there, which in the end is a healthy thing. When you’re going through a time when you don’t want to talk about it, the pledge kind of reminded me that I needed to.
Did you inspire anyone else to make a pledge around mental health?
I actually had three people that joined my pledge, two of whom had very powerful stories. I feel like my anxiety is a challenge for me, but I know others face even bigger challenges. So for people who joined my pledge to share their stories with me, and to hear about their experiences—it meant a lot that they would be willing to open up. That by me putting out my little story that they were then willing to share their stories. That felt good. And hopefully more people read it and were inspired to talk about it.
Why do you think that there is a persistent stigma around mental health?
Other health ailments, people can see and understand. With mental health, if you have never dealt with a mental health issue, it’s hard to understand that someone else’s brain is just not working the same way that yours is. You don’t understand that when someone tells you, “Just calm down and relax,” that you would like to but that’s just not physically and mentally possible at that time. I think there’s just a lot of misunderstanding around it.
And because of reactions that people probably received in the past, and because it’s hard for others to understand, people just kind of keep it inside. The more you keep it inside, the worse it gets. Whereas if people could be open to talk about it from the beginning, I think that a lot of people would be helped by that.
For Change Day, I volunteered to tell my own story, I wrote it, and then the next day I was panicked about it because of that stigma. And I’ve never really experienced stigma personally—no one has ever treated me poorly, or called me names, or done anything negative to me—yet I still felt that stigma. So it was an eye-opening experience for me to see that this stigma is so ingrained that even in someone like me who deals with their mental health but has never had a negative experience, it still created fear about how people could react.
Do you encourage other people who struggle with anxiety or other mental health issues to make a similar pledge, to talk about it more?
It should only be when you are comfortable with it and when you are ready. Because if you start talking about something and you’re not ready, not comfortable with it, then it could have negative consequences. For each person it just depends where they’re at, if they’re ready to talk about things.
I was inspired by Sarah Lambrick, the winner of the Health Talks student contest last year, who talked about her depression. Sitting there and watching that inspired me. I thought that if I’m dealing with mental health issues, and hearing her talking about her mental health issues could help me, then maybe it’s something that I could also do. Because I am in a situation where I’m well supported, I’ve been able to deal with it in my day-to-day life for the most part. And I know that other people are dealing with larger issues. So I feel like if I can talk about it and it can help others, then I should do that.
Do you feel like you are still putting your pledge into action?
Now I’m always going to be acting on my pledge. It’s out there now, and I think for my own mental health that I need to keep talking about it.