Abby Oakley, Heads Up Team Leader at Solent Mind, tells us about her experience as a shortlister for the Mind Media Awards and why she's proud to be involved.
Abbey is a media volunteer for Mind.
I was 24 when I first got my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I had no idea what bipolar disorder was. I really had no idea what a mental health problem was. That’s only ten years ago.
I now work at Solent Mind in Hampshire and use my experience to making sure that children and young people in the area are aware of their mental health, know where to get support and feel confident doing so. Eight years ago I founded a project called Heads Up. I visit schools, colleges and universities and talk to the students about my mental health. Over the years the project has gone from strength to strength and I’m so proud of what I do.
"I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here today without them [Solent Mind]; they saved my life."
When I started working at Solent Mind, it was the first time in a long time that I didn’t feel stupid, I didn’t feel ill and I didn’t feel disconnected with the world around me. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here today without them [Solent Mind]; they saved my life. They have given me a purpose, a career and made me the person I am today.
I still get ill, but they look after me. I do struggle and sometimes getting out of bed is the hardest thing to do. When I’m feeling manic, it’s a really scary place to be. But the first thing I do when I feel like this is call my line manager. If I need time off they don’t judge, they just support me. They make me feel valued.
I feel so passionate about the support I’ve had from them that I want to give back. As part of the Mind network, I feel a strong connection to national Mind and over the years I’ve tried to get involved with their work as much as I can.
"I’m a media volunteer and regularly talk to local and national media about my mental health."
I’m a media volunteer and regularly talk to local and national media about my mental health. For Solent Mind, local media coverage is a really important way that we connect with our community. It helps to raise our profile and let people know that we are there for them if they need us.
I’m also a shortlister for the Mind Media Awards, and have been for the last six years. I’ve given my views on categories including Student Journalist, News and Current Affairs, and Documentaries – and this year I worked on my favourite, Entertainment.
In the weeks before the shortlisting panel meets, the Mind Media team send us the entries. I used to get DVDs in the post, but now it’s all online and I can watch on my phone or laptop. I go through each entry and mark them against the criteria.
"I have the unique opportunity to showcase my knowledge and opinions alongside journalists, mental health professionals and Mind supporters."
It always gives me lots to think about and I learn a lot outside of my day to day life from watching, reading or listening to the entries. When we meet as a panel to agree the shortlist I have the unique opportunity to showcase my knowledge and opinions alongside journalists, mental health professionals and Mind supporters and campaigners.
Through the shortlisting process I am given the opportunity to be part of a group of like-minded people where I don't feel ashamed to have a mental health problem. In fact, I can embrace it and feel proud of it. The fact that I am contributing to such a powerful and inspirational event each year makes me proud to have a mental health problem.
"I really feel like I’m part of a movement that’s changing the way society thinks about mental health problems."
I really feel like I’m part of a movement that’s changing the way society thinks about mental health problems. And to go from an evening on my sofa watching celebrities on TV to a night out in London spotting them in person is a dream. The Mind Media Awards is the highlight of my year!
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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.