You might recognise them from the TV, the red carpet or a sports stadium – but in 2019, celebs showed us once again that mental illness does not discriminate.
HuffPost UK’s series What Works For Me asks famous faces what they do to look after their mental health, to break stigma and remind us all that self-care and professional help, when needed, can go a long way.
From dealing with everyday challenges like stress and a busy schedule, to more serious mental illnesses like depression, OCD and anxiety disorders, our interviewees didn’t hold back, reflecting on their toughest days and how they coped with them.
Here are just nine of the lessons we’ve learned from them about mental health and wellbeing this year.
Saying ‘no’ is vital – Dame Kelly Holmes
Olympic legend Dame Kelly Holmes spoke to us about her experience of depression and said now she understands the importance of saying “no”.
“It’s about recognising when I’m having a down day and realising that I don’t need to go out training,” she said. “Sometimes I think ‘I should really go for a run, but I don’t want to’, and then I say ‘well don’t go then’. I’m better in tune with my body and my mind now.”
Holmes said people need to work on getting to know themselves, and being confident enough to say “no I can’t” or “yes I will” when it suits them. “I’ve learned to say ‘no’ a lot, which I didn’t before,” she said.
There’s no ‘one cure’ to mental illness – Fearne Cotton
Cotton told HuffPost UK she uses a combination of art, yoga and running for self-care, which has made triggers less frequent and episodes less pronounced.
“There’s no cure. There’s no ‘do this once and you’ll feel amazing’,” she said. “But they’re all small things that I have in my back pocket now that I know are going to help me get back eventually to feeling good – and that might be in an hour, a day, a week or in a year. But I think as long as I always keep those things up regularly, it will help.”
Therapy isn’t embarrassing – Martin Kemp
Spandau Ballet star and Eastenders actor Martin Kemp said he went through “the darkest depression” after being diagnosed with two brain tumours. But he was reluctant to get help, until his wife, Shirlie, tricked him into attending his first therapy session by pretending she’d booked him a massage.
“I was a typical Englishman who thought therapy was a waste of time and that I could deal with it. I thought ‘I don’t need somebody who I don’t know talking to me,’” he said.
“From the very first 10 minutes of [the therapist] talking to me, I burst into tears – and I’ve never looked back. That was the beginning of my recovery mentally and coming out of that horrible phase. Since then, I will recommend therapy to anybody.”
A routine helps – Professor Green
Professor Green shared his experience of OCD, depression and anxiety. It may sound like an introvert’s nightmare, but the rapper and documentary-maker said sleeping with the curtains open eases his anxiety – by forcing him out of bed in the morning and into a routine.
“I just find that getting up and out and getting my day started, irrespective of what my sleep was like, makes me feel better,” he said. “The longer you leave things the more they manifest, the more you have to do and the more difficult it seems to take that first step. But I think the first step is the most important thing when it comes to mental health.”
Addressing grief is cathartic – Clara Amfo
BBC Radio 1′s Clara Amfo told us about the intense grief she experienced after her father’s death in 2015. She was in Paris collecting her bib for the city’s half marathon when she was told the devastating news over the phone. In 2016, she returned to Paris to complete the race.
“Running for me was such, and still is, a bit of a saviour to be honest,” she said. “Going back to run in Paris was one of my proudest moments. It was very healing and cathartic.
“We can often make certain places and activities the enemy if they’re attached to trauma, but Paris is a beautiful city and France is a lovely country. I never wanted to think ‘I can’t go back there’ because of what had happened.”
Accept the unexpected – Jonnie Peacock
Having contracted meningitis as a child, paralympian Jonnie Peacock struggled to accept himself as an amputee in his teenage years. But over time, he learned that life is unpredictable – and recommends doing the same for better mental health.
“We all want to be the perfect version of ourselves, but unfortunately that’s not what life has planned. Sometimes things happen and life throws you curveballs and it’s just realising that you’re still here,” he told us.
“You’re always preparing yourself for the worst, when in actual fact, you should just relax and see what happens. I try to think about every day individually and cross each bridge as it comes.”
Dance can be therapy – Ashley Banjo
For some, talking to a counsellor is vital for their mental health, but others find release elsewhere. Choreographer and TV presenter Ashley Banjo described dance as his “therapy”, saying it has kept him grounded in life and has helped him stay tee-total.
“It’s very judgmental and it’s quite superficial, that world of celebrity, fame and doing things in television. But there’s something about movement and dance and music – it’s got the power to lift your mood in the way that nothing else has,” he said. “I don’t drink or anything and when people say: ‘Really, how do you not?’ I think it’s because of my dancing.”
Pampering is a form of self-care – Paris Lees
Journalist and trans activist Paris Lees told us that growing up, she would plait her aunt’s hair but didn’t get to experience the same thing. Now, pampering is her primary source of self-care.
“There is nothing that my hairdresser doesn’t know about my life. It’s just a relief. You can talk, get your head massaged, you walk out of there and feel lighter,” she said.
“A lot of what I do in my life – I go for facials, I get my hair done, I get my nails done – you’re almost paying people to mother you and care for you. You want to look nice, but it is a social experience. We are social animals and I think it’s so important, actually, just to be touched.”
Connection is key – Konnie Huq
Blue Peter presenter-turned author Konnie Huq told us the most “destabilising” moment of her life when when she left the show after 11 years, adding: “I was in this stage thinking: ‘I don’t know where my next meal is coming from.’”
Adding to this feeling of instability was the fact her father was ill with cancer. He died in 2014 followed by her mum’s death in 2017. Losing both parents highlighted the importance of making connections with the people around her for good mental health.
“We’re all anchored by family, work life, friendships and relationships,” she said. “You’re just a person floating in space essentially, but you stop floating when you have those things.”
What Works For Me is a HuffPost UK interview series that speaks to people in the public eye about mental health, wellbeing and self-care. You can catch up on the full series so far here.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- 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.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.