Wednesday 22 November 2017

Why I decided to shave my head for Mental Health Charities

Amelia shares her journey to making the decision to shave her head for mental health charities.
- Amelia Hartley

I recently created a video, posted on YouTube, sharing my story behind choosing to shave my head on the 3rd December this year to raise money for Student Minds and the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).

Despite writing about my motivations on my fundraising page and in emails to friends and family, writing and filming a video to be posted online for the world to see was an incredibly daunting process. It took a lot of courage: courage I didn’t know I had. It showed me how far I have come and how much strength I have – we all have so much strength.

I’ve experienced some heightened anxiety over the past couple of months. Tackling a big fundraising goal is £2500 isn’t easy. I’ve had fears of not reaching my target, nobody attending the event, being laughed at or judged once the hair goes, friends not supporting me…the list goes on! However, I have had plenty of individuals express their support and encouragement.

Shaving my head for charity has become so much more than just trying to raise money for the causes. It’s also about showing people that it’s okay to talk about mental health and that recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It’s about reducing the stigma, as we all have mental health and we should all respect it like we do with our physical health. It’s about raising awareness of two amazing charities who are supporting thousands of individuals across the UK and will continue to support thousands more. I never thought I would one day be able to talk openly and honestly about my mental health, but here I am.

I was 14, and living in Sydney, when first diagnosed with depression. I felt like the only person of my friends, year group, even school, who wasn't 'happy' all the time. I thought I shouldn't feel like this because nothing had happened to trigger how I felt. I was looking for an excuse, and hoping that excuse would provide a solution to becoming better.

My methods for feeling better weren't healthy; I was self-harming, drinking and isolating myself. I had suicidal feelings. I started taking anti-depressants but I didn’t want anyone to know, or they'd know that something was wrong with me. I’ve realised now how helpful they are to some people, including myself. I still take them, but I’m not embarrassed or ashamed; having depression isn’t shameful.

In September 2010, my best friend died and my world completely fell apart. This was my first experience of 'suicide'. It was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we will never know whatever led him to that point. A life taken at 18: he had so much more to do, and we had so much love and hugs still to give him. Sometimes things are buried so deeply that nobody can help at the crucial moment. I would do anything to bring him back, but since I can’t, I want to try to help fewer men take their own lives. This is why I have chosen the Campaign Against Living Miserably, the male suicide prevention charity, as one of the charities to raise money for. In 2016, 76% of all suicides in the UK were male, and this has been the case since the early 1990s. It is the biggest killer of men under 45. However, CALM prevents over 250 suicides every year. They offer a helpline, website resources, and support, tackle stigma through massive national campaigns and increase the awareness of male suicide rates. Just a £7 donation can pay for a potentially life-saving call, so giving a little can do a lot.

I have personally seen that suicide is preventable – another close friend of mine, who had a suicide attempt, has come far and is alive and well today. I am so thankful he had the right help and support, and am pleased I could support him too.

In 2011, I moved back to England and took the opportunity to improve my academic work and my mental health. Despite lots of ups and downs, I did well in my A levels and went to study Physics at university, excited by the opportunity to continue learning.

Three months before moving to Southampton, from nowhere, I felt a massive dip in my mental health and began drinking and caring very little about myself. Starting university, I didn’t feel in control and was very vulnerable, and then my uncle suddenly passed away over the Christmas holiday. Jon was like a father to me, who I had hoped would be at my graduation and walk me down the aisle at my wedding. I felt like a part of myself had been brutally and abruptly ripped from me. 

I spiralled. I couldn’t concentrate in lectures or sit exams without crying. I didn’t feel I could talk to people; it seemed no one would understand the grief or pain I was experiencing. I couldn’t pretend to be ok and couldn’t be rude, so I isolated myself. Feeling outside of myself, I was watching ‘me’ go through each day without any control. There were times when I couldn’t picture the next 24 hours. I was scared of myself. 

I had to start recovery. University was still the route I thought I was going to be taking, so I stopped drinking and started taking care of myself. I went into second year with a positive frame of mind but my mental health still wasn’t great, even though it had improved.

I found that university was making things worse. Opportunities I’d found in university were the things that were keeping me going such as running a Student Minds peer support group for students experiencing low moods. The programme I was facilitating, and subsequent support network, kept me going through second year and allowed me to leave university knowing I’d made the right decision to drop out. Student Minds saved me – I don’t know where I’d be without them. The mental health of university students would be at a crisis point without the peer support, staff training, campaigns and sector influence that Student Minds offers. This is why I have chosen them as my second charity. Their work is hugely recognised, and it is an honour to now work for the charity.

You can’t always see depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. You don’t always know how much someone is struggling. It doesn’t always show outwardly; they might not talk about it because they’re worried about others’ reactions. If I tell someone that I have clinical depression and anxiety or have experienced suicidal thoughts, they might change how they behave around me or panic. It’s not necessarily an illness with an easy diagnosis and treatment, where people wish you to get well soon and celebrate your recovery. Mental health difficulties and suicide affect millions of individuals across the UK. For that, I will do my bit by shaving my head and raising as much money as I possibly can for the Campaign Against Living Miserably and Student Minds.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, please donate if you can, please share this as much as possible. We can all share our stories and they can have more impact than we ever imagine.

Watch the video here:

Hi, I'm Amelia and I am the Training Programmes Manager at Student Minds. I previously volunteered for the charity, and love now being part of the staff team. I've had lots of ups and downs over the years, but have found Oxford a beautiful place to live and work, and the countryside certainly helps my mood! We all have mental health, let's keep fighting the stigma.

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