THE BLOG

The Battle Against Mental Health Stigma Needs More Hope

02/02/2016 17:19 | Updated 02 February 2017

Suicide is the biggest killer of young men in the UK, and it nearly got me too.

I'm one of those 'one in four people', that has a mental health diagnosis. I've quietly dealt and hidden mine for a long time.

It got hardest while I was at University. Yes, it was my chance to dress outrageously, twerk the night away and dye my hair bright pink (Which I of course did, minus the pink hair). I just wish I'd been warned about some of the hidden pressures that come with studying too.

Unfortunately, the picture on campus is not as easy as it is perceived. A recent study by the National Union of Students produced for parliament showed 4 in 5 students faced mental health issues in the last year.

On top of the pressures any student faces - I also had to deal with being gay. I thought University would be one place I didn't have to worry about it. But another report by the NUS's LGBT arm in 2014 showed that 1 in 5 students face homophobia and 1 in 3 face transphobia.

After I tried to take my life, I was so fortunate to have a strong set of friends and an LGBT community to fall back on campus - not to forget a massively supportive family. I didn't talk about why I'd been away for months from University - but they were a warm and caring bright pink ray of light that got me through.

When writing this, I had this overwhelming concern that it might focus on my story too much. I was worried it was to much about me - that's not what I wanted at all. But it was reading Olly Alexander talk so openly about his mental health in Attitude Magazine and Dan Beeson's account on Gay Star News - that made me want to talk about mental health. It also got me thinking of my favourite LGBT Icon.

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to be elected in the US, urged his supporters to come out about their sexuality - no matter the consequences, at a time when you could lose your job and family for doing so. His point? If everyone knows someone who is gay people will realise that gay people are nothing to fear.

The same revolution needs to happen with Mental Health, and if a huge pop star can talk about it and have one of the biggest albums of the year - then so can I. So can you.

Despite graduating, I'm in my third year of volunteering with National Student Pride, who this year has put the focus of their event this year on Mental Health. Chiming with my belief, the LGBT community has long embraced new ideals long before it's accepted in wider society.

When 48% of trans people in the UK under 26 have attempted suicide because of discrimination they suffer and mental health charity Re-Think statistics show gay and bisexual men are four times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population - it's time to stand together on this one.

Harvey Milk was a strong believer in the notion of Hope. One of his most famous speeches used the word 'Hope' over and over. He was talking about coming out as gay because it sent a message to the young gay people in small towns right across America.

He said, if you don't have strong gay voices out there people won't know there is hope for a better tomorrow and that the US's, the others, the minorities - that we give up. People with Mental Health issues are the new 'others'.

Olly Alexander talking about his mental health sent a message of hope to me. So I'm writing about my mental health for the same reason Harvey Milk called on people to be open about their sexuality in the 70s. Because we have nothing to fear when we stand together. Just as the LGBT community embraced the 'T', it's time for us to reach out and take the fear away from talking about mental health too.

After all, I know it's possible to cope with Mental Health, even when it gets so difficult. I know that every person who tells their story of mental health breaks down stigma by providing a ray of hope. And that's what we need. More Hope.

Visit www.studentpride.co.uk/2016 to find out more about the mental health panel this year where Will Young will be speaking

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@getconnected.org.uk
  • HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41