Meeting Prince Harry was such an incredible experience.I told him briefly about my experience of bullying, abuse and mental health problems, and how I started Evolve – a peer support group in my local area.
Peer support can be so crucial, because you never really know who needs a listening ear or a helping hand. It’s a way of sharing experiences and messages of hope and recovery, and developing a support network. As Prince Harry agreed, it’s vital for people with experience of mental health problems to speak out and make a difference in their communities.
It was very liberating to be able to say that I went through some traumatic times, and am now able to campaign with YoungMinds, run my own peer support group, and study mental health nursing at university.
As Prince Harry agreed, life can be so busy – it was great to stop and celebrate the difference that we can make every day, by owning our stories and bravely sharing them.
At the event I also met Kelly Holmes, Rio Ferdinand, Victoria Pendleton, Iwan Thomas and a few other fabulous sports start who are speaking out. Victoria Pendleton spoke to me so honestly about her experiences of self harm, depression, and anxiety. She told me about how other people helped her, and how she came to realise that she can be vulnerable, and experience mental health issues, while also being a World Champion.
It just goes to show that people are not weak for having mental health issues – if anything they are incredibly strong for overcoming it and living with it every day.
Evolve has been running for two years so far. It has a few regular members that come to the sessions, a page on Facebook that has 450+ followers, and we are in the process of setting up an online peer support group too.
We do a lot of activities. Sometimes it’s as simple as playing catch, which requires communication, teamwork, and develops confidence. We also share our favourite music, quotes and stories with each other, which everyone finds inspiring. Some of our activities involve discussion, some involve being active, some involve creativity etc, but all of them are focused on wellbeing.
The members we have are a group of very diverse young people. Some are from the LGBT community, some are from minority ethnic groups, some are female, some are male, some people come from the local area, some people travel more than an hour to get there. We try as hard as we can to make sure every single person feels able and safe to be there.
People find Evolve really helpful because it’s a safe space to talk to others without being judged, and learn new ways of coping with different situations, thoughts and feelings in life. As time has gone on, the people at Evolve have become a family, and other than continuing to develop and grow, none of us would change a thing.
You Are Never Alone
If there’s one thing I got from attending the event, it’s that you truly are not ever alone.
There are so many people out there who care about raising awareness about mental health, and there are so many people fighting for a better system so that people get the support they need. If you feel alone, please remember there is a whole army out there fighting for you, and that things can get better.
Nikki is an activist for YoungMinds campaigning for change in youth mental health. Visit their website for more details. And for more info and stories from this event go to the Heads Together BBQ summary page.