The Mental Health panel took place on Sunday at Summer in the City 2018, in Panel Room A. The panel featured dodie, Luke Cutforth, Scola Dondo and Childline counsellor Marnie Winter-Burke. It was chaired by Teoh Lander-Boyce.
Teoh began by reminding the audience that himself and the other creators on the panel aren’t professionals, and if anyone in the audience wants to speak to someone about their own mental health they could contact Childline or Samaritans.
He then asked the panellists if they could talk about their own experiences of mental health. Scola shared that she has anxiety and depression, which has been exacerbated by a thyroid condition. When she was doing her GCSEs she also suffered from anxiety and panic attacks.
“My name’s Luke, and I’m a mess,” stated Luke, to several laughs from the audience.
Luke’s been talking to people about having anxiety and depression since he was 15 and around a year ago, was diagnosed with Cyclothymia – a condition which causes mood swings, similar to Bipolar, but “you don’t have the manic highs. You just feel rubbish, and then you feel ok.”
Teoh’s next question was who they talk to about their conditions and experiences. For Scola, it’s her sister – “She’s usually the first person I tell if I’m struggling with anything.”
She admitted to feeling nervous about telling her parents, however, as in Zimbabwe it’s not something that people take seriously. Luckily, however, her parents are quite progressive in their opinions about mental health.
“They’re always there if I need them and I can call them, and they really help me in the mornings,” she shared. “If I didn’t want to wake up they would force me out of bed and out of my PJs, which is really lovely.”
“It can put you in a vulnerable position when you open up to someone,” said Marnie, “it can be a good idea to plan and prepare that conversation.”
When Teoh asked the panellists about their coping mechanisms and what helps them when going through a difficult time, they all agreed that writing things down and making lists is incredibly beneficial.
“I get quite anxious randomly,” said Scola, so to calm herself down she writes lists of things that are worrying her and what she can do to resolve them. Luke writes to do lists for himself on post-it notes, “and in the process of that I manage to distract myself a little bit.”
Luke went on to mention that some of his coping mechanisms could be seen as ‘weird’. For example, saying “I don’t know whether you’ve ever watched a bee? They’re really interesting.” He explained that so much of what he feels is to do with feeling disconnected from the world in general, feeling like people are disappointing or that he’s disappointing. “And actually, in the same way that a dog loves you unconditionally, it helps me to like, watch a bee.”
Marnie added that trying something new can help to put you in a positive mindset – “You get that feeling afterwards, like ‘I did it, I didn’t think I was going to be able to but I did it'”
As a caveat for these strategies, Luke said: “it takes effort and you have to work at it, and you’ll feel dumb for a long time, but I promise it does help.”
At this point, dodie arrived, fresh from her sound check on the main stage.
She began talking about her own experience of derealisation, describing it as “when your brain takes a step back from the world,” and how, for her, this led to depression. Mental health is an issue she’s talked about a great deal online, but she’s now taking a step back from doing it for her own health.
“People have accused me of romanticising mental health,” revealed dodie. “Honestly, to a point I did but for my benefit, I thought it was helpful. […] I don’t think there’s a right answer, but at the moment I’m taking a step back to figure out what to do with it.”
When it comes to supporting a friend with mental health issues, Scola’s advice was to listen, “and when you are listening don’t feel like you need to fix them,” and as well as this, “letting them know it’s ok not to be ok.”
dodie thought this was a great point, and admitted that when she’s experiencing depression she can often shut down and not talk about how she’s feeling. “If you know you’re friend’s struggling, check in because it shows you care,” she added.
Both dodie and Luke have been to therapy, and Luke shared that it can sometimes feel uncomfortable at first, but that it’s great having someone to talk to. “I don’t know if you’ve ever had therapy,” he said, “but they sort of just stare at you and wait for you to work it out.”
“Oh my god, yes!” interjected dodie.
Marnie asked them how they get over that initial feeling of discomfort, and dodie said: “You really just have to be completely honest and vulnerable, and know that they’ve heard it all.” She also mentioned that it can be useful to write your feelings down before your therapy session so you know what you want to say.
“One thing I’ve started doing is just, if I am having a bad mental health day […] I’m just like, ‘I’m ill’, because it’s the same thing,” said Scola, observing that when you have a cold, for example, you know that you have to take care of yourself and you should do the same for your mental health.
Seeing other people open up about it online has been really helpful for Scola, because it reminds her of how many other people are going through the same things as her. However, some content can still be quite triggering.
“But also that means you’ve got empathy,” observed Teoh, to which Luke replied, “I don’t want empathy Teoh, it’s exhausting!”
It was then time for questions, and one audience member asked the panel where the line should be when sharing your mental health experiences online.
“Don’t share in the moment,” was dodie’s advice. She said that you should sit with it for a while, and maybe show it to a few of your friends to see what they think about being online.
Another audience member asked what a good opening sentence could be when talking to an adult about your mental health. Marnie suggested that if you don’t know where to start you could bring up something you relate to that you’ve seen in the news, a TV show or a YouTube video you’ve seen, and start the conversation that way.
She said, “It can also really help to just prepare what exactly you want to say, how you will feel once you’ve said that and what you think you want from that conversation as well.”
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this article, you can speak to a Childline counsellor on 0800 111 or online at childline.org.uk (for under 19s), or you can talk to Samaritans on 116 123.
Photos by Ally Biddle.
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