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Lauren blogs about why she created her own fashion brand for better mental health.
Lauren is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health. She hopes that by sharing her story she can inspire others to feel less alone.
I have been living with anxiety and depression for over 10 years. Despite my mental health illness, I have always been very career driven but I have found it really difficult to fit in to the ‘working world’ due to lack of support offered by employers. Most of the roles I have had have involved quite a long commute as well as quite high-pressured environments and long hours. All of these things combined ended up taking its toll on my mental health and considering I already had mental health problems it hit me quite hard. The environment would trigger my anxiety and often lead me to me being unable to leave the house and having to call in ‘sick’ or cause sleepless nights and awful starts to the day, which would lead to being late for work.
"My anxiety and often lead me to me being unable to leave the house."
I gained a fashion degree with the hopes of pursuing a career within in the fashion industry. Unfortunately, after almost five years of working within the fashion industry, I had to make the decision to leave. Due to the very toxic environment and lack of support with my mental illness, my mental health went rapidly down hill.
Since university I started to feel less ashamed about my mental ill health so I eventually opened up about my illness at my work place (of the time) in the hope that I would be supported but that wasn’t the case. I remember my manager saying to me I needed to be more like a swan and not show my emotions at work because others wouldn’t see me as being ‘capable’. Also, the HR manager once said to me ‘you have made me realise that we don’t do enough here to support people with mental health conditions’ and eventually told me I would be better off out of the organisation for the sake of my mental health. These conversations were really tough, I had my mind telling me that this wasn’t right and I shouldn’t let them push me out of a job that I worked so hard for but they hugely affected my confidence, my self belief and I was worn down so much I had to leave. At the time I wasn’t fully aware of my rights and being covered by the disability act so I attempted to try and stand up for myself and not let them pretty much force me out of the company but once the management team knew about my mental health conditions, it felt as if I was fighting a losing battle.
Since then, I have been in two different job roles at different companies, outside of the fashion industry but have come up against the same lack of understanding and support when it comes to my mental health. It is against everything I believe in to go in to a role and not be honest about my illness as it should be accepted and supported just like anyone with a physical health problem. From talking to others and my own experiences, it seems like many organisations have only ‘tick box’ processes in place to look like they are ‘mental health friendly’ when in fact, they don’t have the actual structure, funds, or time to support people properly.
"It felt as if I was fighting a losing battle."
I can see that there is a shift happening and I hope that more organisations can take mental health seriously, investing time and funds in to the support they need to deliver their duty of care and have a happy work force!
Earlier this year I had my fourth round of CBT through the NHS which I feel has really helped in my recovery journey – it was in a group setting which I had only done once before when I was 15 and I was super anxious about it however, it was the best CBT course I have done yet. The therapist was fantastic and listening, sharing and supporting each other within the group was hugely impactful. To really benefit from CBT, I found that I really had to put the things I learned in to practise. Being consistent and persistent is key. To be honest, I have found it hard to be consistent but what I have learnt is that if I am having a down day, it is ok and not to beat myself up for the way I am feeling. Accept it, listen to my body, take time and try again the next day.
"The therapist was fantastic."
One of the key components of CBT that I have found useful is learning to intercept negative thoughts, to notice them as soon as they pop in my head and shut them down straight away. The more energy I give to those thoughts, the more my brain will continue to focus on them. This has really helped me with my work now as I can avoid getting bogged down with the negativity and anxiety of what others might think and listen more to my gut and move forward with my ideas, which seems to have been working well so far!
At the moment I am in a fortunate position to be able to take a break from the corporate world as I knew after the toll it had on me over the past 5 years, I needed time out to get better and focus on things that make me happy. I started my own mental health awareness brand YANA (www.yana.org.uk) at the beginning of this year. As well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I find that helping others really helps me and my mental health so I combined my love for fashion, and passion to help others to create my brand. As well as hoping to empower others to speak freely about their mental health so we can work towards a stigma free society. I also donate 10% of every sale to Mind so I know that I’m making a difference already.
"Keep being you."
I would like to say to anyone reading this, keep being you, don’t be ashamed to share your experiences and be open about your mental health – the more we talk about it, the more we can ‘normalise’ it and break down the stigma many of us are still facing.
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Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.