Posted in Advocacy, autism

Ugly Autism

As always when talking about autism, I want to remind everyone that autism is not a mental illness. It is a type of neurodivergency; this basically means as autistic people our brains think and process information differently to the ‘norm’ that is expected in the world. However autistic people are more likely to suffer with mental health issues, largely in part to the fact that we are living in a world that isn’t built for us. I’ve talked about an overview on autism acceptance before – which you can read here – but today I wanted to discuss the complexity of an autistic experience and how as more people get involved in autism acceptance and advocacy (which is an amazing thing that I am thrilled to see!) we must keep in mind the spectrum of experiences and therefore the complexity of the necessary solutions.

Sometimes my autism isn’t pretty. I can still fit into the world as I am expected to, but that comes with effort which often goes unseen or under-appreciated. I can do this reasonably easily compared to some, and this is in part due to other aspects of my identity (such as my race) and the supportive people who surround me. You can view this as lucky or not; I think in a way it is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that I have to manipulate the very essence of the way I think in order to fit into systems I often have no desire to engage with in the first place. I think it’s unfortunate that we can even frame this as ‘lucky’ because that just points to how painful life is for those who can’t, and how this pain is worse than the struggle of concealing one’s true self. While I do frame my autism as my superpower sometimes, I do not believe in the rhetoric that it is a blessing – this also lends to the rhetoric that it could be a tragedy when in reality it just is what it is. I frame it as my superpower personally because that helps me cope with its challenges, and because being autistic is so central to my identity that embracing it in a society that often doesn’t is radically self loving for me. My mental health issues are not the same as me being autistic, but since autism affects how I process everything they are of course intertwined and I have no doubt that being autistic in a world that isn’t has been part of how bad my mental illness has gotten and how confusing it has been to understand. In particular I think my early experiences of mental health issues (before they developed into a clear mood disorder of their own) were heavily intertwined with my autistic experience.

So why am I telling you all this? To give you the smallest cross-section of just one person’s autistic experience, and the complexity of even trying to begin to comprehend that experience, so that you might begin to grasp how neurodivergency and the way it is approached by society is not something that can be easily defined or explained. And that is essentially the point of this post. There are more conversations happening around neurodivergency now then ever before – and that is a joyous and wonderful thing! But these conversations cannot be dulled down to a single Instagram post, or a single profile of autism – which threatens to be the most easily palatable representation of autism. Think of how mental health awareness is sometimes boiled down to self-care, bosses offering a free yoga class to their employees, and pity for the people who can’t socialise but can still just about get through a days work. This kind of awareness fails to recognise or help those suffering in ways that are uncomfortable for us to hear about, or impede how they might function in the systems they are expected to – it doesn’t help the person who has to take a year off work, nor the person who has to call an ambulance because they are convinced they’re dying, nor the person who lashes out at others with angry words because they can’t deal with their inner turmoil. I don’t want a similar pattern to happen as we see more autistic and neurodivergent awareness and representation. We can’t afford to ignore the messy parts of autism that might make some people a bit uncomfortable, or the fact that many neurodivergent people can’t (or don’t want to) participate in traditional capitalist structures that aren’t set up to support them. As there is more awareness, we must show the full array of autistic experiences – from all races, with comorbid mental health issues, different traits, physically disabled autistic people etc etc.

Autism and neurodivergency can’t become something trendy, like a new kind of personality test for CEOs to try and enhance their team and their diversity. They just need to become tolerated, known, understood. Because neurodivergency isn’t always palatable; sometimes it’s messy and it’s different and we have to make sure we don’t run the risk of autistic and adhd people who can more easily fit into the societal expectations (and who want to, because not everyone does) getting ahead and heralded as some liberal caring symbol for employers – for example, while others continue to be ignored. 

Posted in Advocacy, autism, Personal Growth

Autism is My Superpower

I’m autistic. Having autism in a neurotypical world is not easy because generally the world isn’t built for us and proves to be confusing, but for anyone struggling with their diagnosis/ symptoms (and any neurotypicals unclear on the individual nature of autism) I want to make it clear that having autism isn’t a defect. Nor is it a mental illness. In fact, it can be a bonus in many situations, and when accommodated to autistic people can provide new perspectives and skills to the benefit of others. I, for one, like to think that my autism is my superpower, and this is my personal experience:

I learnt to ‘mask’ my autism – consciously learning how to act and react from other people’s behaviour; having to put effort into learning social rules that came naturally to others. Masking can be exhausting, so I know it’s essential that I take breaks and find time for myself, but like a superhero in a costume, it can also be powerful. How? Because my passion is theatre, and when I become the character I act out on stage, I am easily able to slip myself into their shoes – I know how they would behave and why. It comes effortless to me. The misconception is that autistic people are like robots and can only slot into certain careers. In reality we are varied like everyone else, and our uniqueness is incredible. We exist in every identity there is: every race, every gender, every sexuality, as parents and children. Our variety is often overlooked.

My increased sensory input is a key feature of my superpower. I observe more, hear more, taste more. This translates to a benefit in so many situations. You don’t know your train time? Don’t worry, I glanced at the board quickly and noticed it. You’re lost and don’t know the way back? Don’t worry, I spotted landmarks along the way, I know where we’re going. You’re trying to remember where you put your glasses? Never fear, I spotted them. And if we’re thinking about sound and music, my greater sensory input comes to my aid once again – that along with my ability to spot patterns as part of my autism, and my synaesthesia (which is far more prevalent among autistic people than the general population). When I hear a piece of music, it is alive to me. It is full of colour, I hear every layer of the rich instruments, and I can see the patterns the notes are forming. If I want to then play that piece on piano, I need only translate the pattern onto the keys – give me a bit of time and I can paint the picture I hear all by myself. This is my superpower. 

Not to mention the fact that I am quite simply neurodivergent. I think experience the world in a way that is different to ‘the norm’, or rather the majority. Why is this a feature of my superpower? Because I can come up with new ideas and perspectives that may have been overlooked or not thought of at all. In certain situations this can become the way I overcome challenges or help others to do so; in the right combination my divergent thinking could be innovative. Us autistic people have a place in this society, no matter where our traits lie on the spectrum, and if we are accommodated we may even be able to offer solutions, certainly valuable contributions at the least. 

Like a superhero may have an emblem, sign, or symbol, I have my stims. By stims I mean self stimulatory behaviour. Why is this so amazing? Well, it indicates to me how I am feeling (different stims, like tapping my fingers on my palm or twirling my ankle, correspond to different moods). Not only this, but should I start to feel an uncomfortable emotion, stimming freely can help calm me down. There’s a lot of people out there that don’t have something so simple in their toolbox, so this is powerful to me. It’s also such a pure form of expression, and can even help me release my creativity, tapping into my flow. Furthermore, my stims evolve over time – hitting my head morphed into covering my head and now I need only put on a hat to feel at home. How awesome is that? 

This barely scratches the surface of my positive autistic experience, but I hope it has enlightened you. Autism is not a bad thing – quite the opposite. And the beautiful part of it is that no one autistic person’s experience is the same as another. We have a place in this world, and we’re not going anywhere, so the more that neurotypicals begin to understand and help us meet our needs, the more we can give.

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

Letters to my MP

This is the first of five letters to my MP regarding the mental health system, sent originally in May – it is not even worth me posting the others because they are all very repetitive following evasive responses. However I thought I would post this one as it gives a comprehensive overview of how I regard the mental health system in the U.K. and I’d like to say is a reasonably interesting read. If you’d like to read any of the others or responses please do get in touch.

Dear Mr ****,

My name is Millicent ****, I am 15 years old, and I am a resident of the **** district. I am writing to you today concerning the topic of the mental health system in the UK, particularly regarding young people. This is of great personal and nationwide importance since the mental health of citizens is an intersectional issue impacted by and impacting most aspects of society. You may be aware of many of my concerns already, however there is so much still to be done and these issues need highlighting, especially in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic which will no doubt influence the mental wellbeing of the population. I firmly believe that investment into the improvement of support in the UK will aid the return to life following this pandemic. I will also send a copy of this to you handwritten. It is my hope that you will take the time to read this email in full, as it is a comprehensive display of the complex problems within the system, and that it may open a discourse with you about what can be done to improve the system, and therefore society. Essentially – how will you, as an MP, push for change?

In this email I will cover:

– Personal experience

– Statistics and widespread perceptions of the system 

– The intersectionality of mental health 

– Issues with the diagnostic process 

– My questions about the system, what can be done, and ideas for what could be improved 

– Summary for your convenience 

In the last three years I have been diagnosed with high functioning autism, anxiety disorder, cyclothymia (a subtype of bipolar disorder) and disordered eating. To say I have struggled would be an understatement, and in terms of intervention from mental health services I have struggled alone. I only received these diagnoses after reaching breaking point, and through the private system funded by charity money after being consistently failed by CAHMS. Even then I faced long waiting lists and inadequate support. I will raise my concerns within the context of my own experience. 

When I was first referred to CAHMS I saw a counselor who I did not connect with; when I asked for a change of treatment, I was denied such. A year later – after a sharp downward turn in my mental health which meant I could no longer partake in a full school timetable – I was referred to the service once again. I had an initial assessment which left me confused, and they brushed aside my difficulties with my moods. I was offered group therapy, which intimidated me, and a check in with the eating disorders unit. I was not consulted about my treatment. After a panic attack in the office and a month of complaints I was offered CBT – but only 3 sessions; this is completely inadequate by any standards, including the NHS NICE guidelines, to make any change. When I raised concerns unrelated to my anxiety in these sessions, they were brushed aside as unimportant or not relevant to their unit. I was told by the eating disorder unit that I was ‘not light enough’ to qualify for in depth treatment – despite having lost a stone in the space of three weeks and being unable to eat more than five-hundred calories a day at the time. At the end of my CBT I was let go of by the service as they felt they had nothing more to offer me. I was told an ASD assessment would take eighteen months. Four months later I was struggling with suicidal tendencies, self harm, bulimia, and other issues. The overarching theme here is that I was continually told I was not ‘bad enough’ and by the time I was ‘bad enough’ I had no support systems in place. 

So my first questions are these: how can we change the system so that the needs of individuals are taken into consideration? How can we improve communication across units within the system so that the individual’s struggles are dealt with at all levels? How can we ensure that all the patient’s concerns are being taken into account, without ridicule? How can we create better measures to support people at all levels of the system, so that they always feel valid and the preventable outcomes do not occur, which often leaves people alone or the system overwhelmed? A simple answer would be funding – the system needs better funding to be able to cope with the influx of patients coming through, and approach each one with compassion. However this is not the singular solution, which I will come to later, and would require a shift in the focus of government by essentially making clear that it puts the wellbeing of its citizens first, and is not afraid to invest in long term solutions and improvements. 

I am not alone in my experience – a quick survey on my Instagram provided me with several answers, all of which backed up my perceptions of the system; I have heard conversations about the same problems repeated over and over again. Here are just a handful of responses from my Instagram: 

‘I’m sure mental health problems could be caught and helped earlier with better funding’ 

‘Mental health services for young people are woefully underfunded’ 

‘I’d say more funding for counselor programmes as there are massive waiting lists for them’ 

‘Private services are so dear, and many slip through the net because they can’t access help in time’  

‘Not enough work is done to prevent mental health problems and when there is a crisis, the systems are not properly equipped to deal with them’ 

In terms of statistics, the Community Mental Health survey 2019 by the Quality Care Commission reports ‘many of those areas identified as in need of improvement in 2018 have declined further, continuing the negative trend of results consistently declining over the 2014 – 2019 period’. This follows the publication of the government’s ambitions in the Next Steps on the Five Year Forward View (2017) and the NHS Long Term Plan (2019). As reported by the charity Mind, this weekend also marked 18 months since the Mental Health Act review – and we are still waiting for the government to make vital changes. Some key statistics from the survey are: 

– 31% of all respondents said they did not know who to contact out of office hours within the NHS if they had a crisis 

– One in five respondents that did know who to contact, and had done so in the last twelve months, reported they did not receive the help they needed during a crisis 

– Less than half (42%) of respondents said they had ‘definitely’ seen NHS mental health services enough for their needs. This is five percentage points lower than 2014 

– Almost a quarter of people (23%) were not involved in agreeing their care with NHS mental health services.

– Only 52%, of those who agreed their care, felt they were involved as much as they wanted to be in that process

– 29% of people had not had a formal meeting with anyone from the NHS mental health services to discuss how their care is working in the last year 

This barely scratches the surface of the 92 page report, which shows quality of care throughout to be below expectations and satisfaction, and many of these issues may also be exaggerated further within CAHMS which presents the challenge of dealing with those under 18. I think you can agree this is simply not good enough. 

While I am on statistics, here is an introduction to why the mental health of the country is important: 

– Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year (Mental Health Network, NHS confederation, 2016) 

– In the UK and the Republic of Ireland there were 6895 suicides in 2018, a 10.9% increase (Samaritans). That is 6895 lives lost, futures lost, family and friends in mourning 

– The rate of suicide among under 25s increased by 23.7% in 2018 (Samaritans) 

– The rate of suicide in the last quarter of 2019 hit a 19-year high, at 11.4 deaths per 100,000 people (ONS)

– Mental ill health is responsible for 72 million working days lost each year and costs £34.9 billion each year (Thriving at work: The independent review of Mental Health and Employers, 2017, Stephen D, Farmerson P), although some other reputable studies reckon this to be as high at £74-99 billion (Business in the community, Mental Health at Work 2019: Time to Take Ownership)

– One in eight 5 to 19 year olds had a mental disorder in 2017 (Government Statistical Service) 

The figures above are just that – numbers. However they represent the pain of millions of people each year, the tragic loss of life; the prevalence and therefore importance of mental health issues. We all have mental health; at any time we could be forced to rely on the system, therefore we must ensure it is properly equipped to support us, and allow us to return as functioning and contributing members of society. In the last three months three of my friends have attempted suicide. Thankfully they are all still alive today, but as they were all already involved in the system before this and had been failed by it invariably, I also live in fear for them, and others – like myself – grappling with mental health issues. This affects all of us. 

The main support I received for my mental health came from my school, simply because I was lucky enough to have understanding and empathetic teachers who always looked out for me. They kept me safe during manic episodes, kept me going during depressive episodes, and constantly took it upon themselves to educate themselves and offer me suggestions. However the level of care which they gave to me was not required of them, nor should it have been, and they are not professionals in the field. As the majority of young people spend most of their time in schools, however, it has highlighted to me the important role that schools play in supporting students’ mental wellbeing.  Furthermore, stress is well known to have a negative effect on mental health, and the stress placed on students in competitive atmospheres only increases as they move up the educational system: how can we alleviate some of the pressure on students and make it part of the curriculum to provide them with coping skills? This is one example of how in improving the NHS system, we must also involve coordination across other aspects of society that support the wellbeing of our citizens.

I know that my teachers were unsure who to contact when I had a mixed episode (undiagnosed at the time) which left them bewildered and in fear for my safety. In improving the system we must raise awareness, and education is key to this as it allows us to reach so many young people. How can we ensure that teachers – all teachers – are trained to recognise early warning signs, and create a structure that would mean they are aware how to approach with empathy, knowing what their next steps would be? Within schools, how can we promote the tolerance and awareness of mental wellbeing in a dynamic, informed manner that fosters compassion? Perhaps required teacher training and reforms in PSHE would be a good place to start, alongside establishing schemes of referral and counselling in educational settings. However, we must also recognise the impact that a teacher’s role may be having on their mental health, and therefore I suggest that it should be the norm that educators are offered easily accessible support to help them, which would not only allow them to offer better assistance, but would also make them better teachers. Mental health is an intersectional issue that requires a multifaceted approach; I hope you will appreciate this, and start formulating ideas on how we can put this into practice. 

Again I reference some quotes from my Instagram survey:

– ‘More investment in mental health training for teachers’ 

– ‘Talks for young people. They feel too’

– ‘Primary schools need to be more aware of mental health in my opinion’ 

– ‘Education beyond anxiety and depression because nothing else is talked about’

In terms of intersectionality, there are also clear trends among different demographics which should be addressed in formulating a plan for improvement. For example, the current protests have brought to my attention the disparities faced by BME communities in receiving mental health treatment: 

– Risk of psychosis in Black Caribbean groups is estimated to be nearly seven times higher than in the White population (Mental Health statistics for England, Briefing paper 6988, Baker C., 2018)

– Detention rates under the Mental Health act during 2017/2018 were four times higher for people in the ‘Black’ or ‘Black British’ groups than those in the ‘White’ group (NHS, Mental Health Act Statistics, Annual report 2017-2018)

– 29% of Black/ Black British women experienced a common mental disorder in the past week, higher than for White British women or Other White women (NHS, Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey) 

Once again this only scratches the surface, but the trend is clear. Research suggests that racism can have a very negative effect on overall health and mental health, and as BME communities are often more likely to be economically disadvantaged – and mental health issues more prevalent among lower income communities –  this is sure to have an effect on these figures. Therefore in facing the problems with the system, we must also look to where we can alleviate stress elsewhere, by educating young people through schools and the wider population through schemes about racism and how to be anti-racist; by aiding those economically disadvantaged and perhaps putting further funding into the services in areas with lower average income; by actively reversing racism and increasing understanding of issues faced by BME people within the service. However, it matters what is then done with this funding as well – there should be clear cut structures that direct where the funding should be applied. For example – community programmes, hiring more nurses and psychologists, further research into the effects of medication and disorders, training/ encouraging the training of the next generation of mental health workers, improving training structures to implement the values of NICE that should already be put in place. We need to not only pledge to look into it, fund it, but also how the process should be guided, surely? 

I could delve further into the intersectionality of mental health among LGBT+ communities (more susceptible), disabled people and their access needs, the workplace – but I feel by now you have gotten the picture. To finish I will cover the topic of diagnostic issues. 

The process of my autism diagnosis was fraught since I was being assessed under a criteria developed based upon the experience of white males of a certain economic background. This is the case for the diagnosis of many disorders, for which the criteria is based upon outdated research of particular demographics. How can we work to reverse this and therefore provide a smoother process for all by being represented in research? Not only that, but I found that without a diagnosis, my concerns were brushed aside as ‘just a teenager thing’. Yet the diagnostic system is not clear on what should or should not be diagnosed in teens, so my diagnoses were almost impossible to achieve, and still I was left feeling that regardless of labels I should have been validated anyway. I then found that after each diagnosis, there was a definite lack of explanation to me and guidance on my next steps. 

The end goal of psychiatry shouldn’t be diagnosis; all aspects of a person should be taken into account; those receiving such should be provided with clear understanding and guidance. Diagnosis also raises the issue of stigma in society – we are still afraid of labels, and yet invalidated without them. As already shown, mental health problems are so prevalent in our society that the very idea of them being a ‘disorder’ is arguably wrong and very damaging, causing divides where there needs to be acceptance and compassion. What can we do about this? There is a clear gap in the understanding around mental health that needs to be closed, which again brings me to the topic of education, and a supportive system at all levels so that the patient feels their individual needs are being heard and the preventable outcomes do not occur. Could research and community schemes help to bridge this gap? 

From my Instagram survey:

-’They don’t do enough for people who have only recently been diagnosed with mental health and therefore it allows their mental health to get worse’

-’It’s important because young people’s lives are being ruined by lack of access and explanations’

– ‘STOP TELLING PEOPLE IT’S JUST HORMONES/ A TEEN THING it’s not helping anyone!’

Mr Holloway I thank you deeply for taking the time to read this email. I hope that you will understand the importance of what I am writing about and receive these points with an open mind. I look forward to receiving your reply. You are a leader, and I trust that there is the possibility for tangible change in opening discourse with you. In conclusion:

  • How can we improve communication across the mental health system and other sectors? 
  • How can we use funding to improve the system?
  • How can we address individual needs?
  • How can we address the intersections of this issue to create a better society?
  • How can we improve the mental health system in conjunction with improving the educational system?
  • How can research help to overcome issues, and how do we ensure action is taken from it?
  • How do we overcome issues with diagnosis and stigma?
  • What can you do to lead this change?

If you would like me to clarify any points or forward my sources please do not hesitate to ask, 

Kind Regards, 

Millicent

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

Funding Mental Health – An Introductory Question

Today’s post is inspired by @jcss.c (insta)

I’ve spoken about funding for mental health systems here before, but I wanted to write a bit about what we want to fund. The mental health system as it is is flawed – I am certain of this – and while extra funding is needed and would help, it won’t fix everything. That is whey when I talk about improving the mental health system I use the word reform.

When we talk about funding the system we need to consider what we are funding. Do we want to pump money into a fundamentally broken system (because it’s been getting worse for quite a while) or do we want to use that money to reform the way the system works, promote independent person led treatment, and then provide resources to help make that happen? 

Here’s some examples of areas that need to be changed: 

  • fatphobia within ED (eating disorder) treatment. That means not having to be under a certain weight to be validated, the mental side of an eating disorder taking precedent, and providing space for people who don’t fit the ‘typical’ ED profile you might expect 
  • Medical racism. This needs to be tackled at all levels and in all areas of society – they all influence each other
  • Inability for medical practitioners to see individuals rather than symptoms. The individual patient matters; they should have a say in their own treatment; all of who they are should be recognised and celebrated. There’s a difference between having to tick boxes and refusing to see anything outside of those boxes 
  • Inappropriate medication/ sedation in inpatient. There should be more resources and a better system of action that doesn’t lead to drugs so quickly, especially if that is against the patient’s wishes 
  • Criminalisation & lack of human respect for people with substance use issues. 
  • Staff who always validate the experience of the patient, don’t rush patients through, tell them they’re not ‘bad enough’, aren’t rude, aren’t tired etc etc etc 
  • Voluntary treatment truly being voluntary. Rather than ‘admit yourself or we’ll section you’ (which happens far too much) 
  • Language changes. Being labelled as compliant or non-compliant, for example, and threatened with no help at all or penalties on freedom in inpatient, when in reality the reasons behind each person’s choice should be explored and respected. They should be helped to be motivated, and if the treatment isn’t working for them, there should be other options 
  • Space for alternative treatments. For example art therapy, drama therapy, animal therapy – just using other methods to get through to patients can be pivotal in their treatment. There should be the ability for this to happen on a wide scale 
  • Recognition of the wider factors impacting and maintaining mental health. Such as money, identity etc

There’s so much more I could discuss and it’s not like I’ve studied this for years, so this is just the opinion I have developed, but I know I am not alone in this. I’d also like to say that I respect any professionals that want to make a difference for someone struggling with their mental health, but I recognise that in such a strange system, it’s often hard for them to do so, and after time that motivation may just disappear. 

If anyone wants to add anything, please comment below, would love to have a discussion on this topic.

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

I Want Change.

This was originally written as a post for Mental Health Awareness week on Instagram. It serves as an introduction to my Mental Health advocacy here at Our Happy Notes:

I’m an advocate for mental health awareness, but sometimes I feel as though I don’t know what to say or do. But I know what I want and I will build from there through myself, my community, and reaching out. 

Positivity and compassion are important, but so is speaking up for change and against the romanticism of mental illness. 

I’m fed up with all these ‘the true side of mental illness’ posts – no, it’s not the ‘truth’, it’s your experience; it’s just as damaging to say it is the only one. Fed up with toxic positivity telling us mental health can be fixed by self care. It will never be ‘fixed’. It will always be a part of us. All of us. Self care is not a singular solution, and we are not failures when it doesn’t take it all away or we can’t commit because brushing our teeth is hard enough. 

Speaking about our experiences is valuable, because there needs to be a tolerance and dialogue, but more than anything there needs to be a system change. I want change. I would never choose to take my illnesses away because they shaped me, and they give me creativity and kindness, but I shouldn’t have had to arrive at that conclusion on my own. 

It shouldn’t be down to a teacher to hand out all the real advice I’m getting – and only then because she’d experienced what I was going through herself. It shouldn’t be a system where we come away from each meeting feeling worse than when we went in, a three month check in from a psychiatrist you had to pay for with charity money otherwise it was an eighteen month wait and quite simply you would be dead by then, but all they did was make sure that you weren’t dead already anyway. Mothers shouldn’t be burdened with such worry when this is something that happens and can be supported. There should be research to prevent the endless trial and error of medications that messes around with yet another patient’s brain. For the kids who need understanding there should be explanations. 

There should be staff for CAMHS and inpatient. When the teachers are so worried, you’re wondering what it might be like to fly, they’re talking about phone calls to parents and police – you shouldn’t be more afraid of hospitals than you are of dying. It shouldn’t have gotten to that point where you weren’t light enough, bad enough, clear enough, strong enough – teenagers shouldn’t have to be strong and blamed for their reluctance when all they’ve known is that they’re not enough. There shouldn’t be so many inequalities – any inequalities – in the system; so much lack of understanding of the challenges that Black people, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people face. 

I want staff. I want research. I want money for the service and societal change led by a government that actually gives a sh*t and we need that now more than ever. I don’t want to see another friend grappling with a mental illness all alone. I don’t want the statistics for suicide and self harm to climb. I don’t want another overdose that could’ve been prevented if only they’d learnt how to cope. I don’t want them to be blamed anymore. I don’t want anyone to feel alone when they are not. To feel unsupported simply because of their identity. 

I want change, and it starts with us. With our dialogue – led by love and compassion and a willingness to learn. I want us to be validated without labels, and yet unafraid if a diagnosis is present. I want the criteria for diagnosis to reflect the diversity of the people who might be diagnosed. I want understanding and support of mental health built into every facet of our lives, including where we are fighting for justice elsewhere, because these are not stand alone issues. The ‘mad’ people are getting mad, and they don’t want that. I want change.

– Millie

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth

Affirmations for the future

Hey Happies!

Today is GCSE results day in the UK (when the results for the national tests that 16 year olds sit are released). For many teenagers it’s a deciding moment for their future, so here at Our Happy Notes I (Millicent – the founder) have compiled some reminders and steps to help students, or otherwise, try and face the future with a positive outlook:

It’s alright to feel daunted by the future and it’s uncertainties. If you are feeling like it’s impossible to go on then please reach out. An activity that I find really helpful is listing all the small things I enjoy or am looking forward to, and building from there – although it’s not a quick fix. Even in the darkest pits of despair and worry it is possible to find goodness in life; it doesn’t have to be much at first, but you do need to try and focus on it. For example, I enjoy the smell of rain much like I enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass. In the future I can look forward to experiencing these smells again. It’s small, but it’s something that makes me happy, and somehow by thinking about it the future seems a little less daunting and impossible because I have found a thing of comfort to focus upon. From there you can build.

No one gets to define you; you are enough just as you are. You are so much more than your grades or your job or your appearance, and you can empower yourself to make positive changes and adopt a different mindset, should you so wish. I have found writing a diary instrumental in forming my sense of identity by allowing me to reflect.

Change can take time, as can adapting to it. This may not be in itself a comforting thought, but it means we are provided with even greater opportunities for learning, development, and growth within this time.

— If you believe in yourself, so much more is possible. Not everything though – for example just because I believe I can fly does not mean I won’t be affected by gravity. Nonetheless, when we believe in ourselves I find that doors start opening for us. Or perhaps they were always open but we were blind to them? Of course belief on its own is not enough; there must also be a level of effort and planning, but at the very least it will make you happier in your own skin.

Not everyone’s journey is the same; you must do what is right for you. This means for your wellbeing, mental health and dreams. The future is yours to shape of it what you will.

We all move at different paces, what matters is that you are moving at all – or even thinking about it. Take one day at a time.

You are allowed to be unsure what you want to do. This doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to figuring it out: write a list of things you enjoy or want to try for a start, and if you can’t think of any then have a look online or in your local area for courses/skills you might like to give a go. From there you can work out what direction you might like to go on in the future – and remember: passion and research are your friends. In addition, having a sense of purpose while your figuring it out can often be really helpful and validating. You could try volunteering, writing a blog, working or even sharing some Happy Notes.

Just because you made a mistake or failed an exam does not make you a failure. Your future is still bright, you just have to find the light-switch.

— There is nothing shameful in reaching out for help in your journey – now or in the future. Guidance and support is invaluable.

You have the power to make a positive impact in the world.

These are just a few affirmations to get you thinking. If you have any ideas or questions don’t hesitate to put them in the comments below.

Go forth and spread joy! And remember – it’s ok if you can only help one person and it’s ok if that one person is you. It’s a start; that’s the hardest part.

Keep Smiling. X

Posted in Happy Notes

How to write your own Happy Note (and why you should)

Hello Happies! (Apparently that’s what we’re called now, just came up with it – if you have a better idea do share)

This is a basic guide on how – and why – to write your own Happy Note. There is no set formula, except that you must try to spread joy or motivate and encourage through your words, but it might be helpful to have some ideas. First though, here’s 10 reasons why you should write a Happy Note:

1. Your words could really brighten someone’s day. You never know what someone is going through, so a few kind words found from a stranger could really mean something to them.

2. Even if your note doesn’t have a profound impact on someone else, by consciously writing positive words you are training your brain to think positive thoughts; a happy mindset can change your life.

3. It’s super easy and takes less than 5 minutes, so why not?

4. It’s a great activity for kids to come up with something kind and have fun decorating their note, teaching them skills in creativity and kindness.

5. It helps you to feel good about yourself as you are deciding to do something for someone else and the world around you. This in turn encourages you to do more to aid the causes you are interested in.

6. It’s fun; you can be as artistic as you like because you are in control.

7. You can make a Happy Note wherever and whenever you like: on the go, while watching TV, during a break – it’s up to you!

8. A Happy Note allows you to feel connected to like minded people and be kind to someone else without having to deal with any social interaction, which can be really scary for some people.

9. It’s only a small step towards a happier life and a happier world, so you don’t need to be afraid to give it a go and it doesn’t require a lot of effort – go at your own pace in taking the step. You’re doing great just by reading this!

10. Happy Notes are symbolic in bringing about a more joyful world, and by creating one you are starting the process in making this dream a reality.

So, you’ve decided you want to write your own Happy Note? Great! But where to begin? As we’ve said already, there’s no set formula for your happy note, just so long as it’s full of joy, motivation and/or encouragement. Below you’ll find a step-by-step guide to creating your own Happy Note and some templates. Go spread that positivity!

1. Grab a pen and some paper. If you want you can also grab some other things to jazz up your note such as glitter, Pom Pom or coloured pencils.

2. Decide what you want your note to say. Remember to make it positive, motivational, joyful, encouraging or all four! It could be a quote or a family saying. Perhaps you’d like to tell your story to inspire someone else. Whatever it is, make it kind. (We’ve included some of our fave quotes at the end of this post)

3. If you want, add a little message on the back of your note to let the world know what it is so the movement can spread. You can use this template – or come up with your own:

‘Hi amazing person,

I am a happy note; my purpose is to spread joy, motivate and encourage others. I want the world to be a happy positive place so I’m part of a movement called Our Happy Notes. I hope you’re having a great day, but if not I hope I’ve helped to brighten it a little. Remember it’s ok not to be ok. There are people out there that care. If you want to find out more visit @our.happy.notes on Instagram or http://www.ourhappynote.wordpress.com

4. Choose where you’re going to leave your note – will it be on a train? In a book? On a shelf? Or under a coffee cup? Just make sure it’s somewhere that someone will find it, and it won’t get blown away by the wind.

5. So, you’ve written your first Happy Note, but what now? When the time feels right, write another and spread more joy. In the meantime look around you for the small things you can do to make a difference. Be kind to someone by holding open the door; smiling as you pass; helping carry a shopping bag. And don’t be disheartened if that kindness isn’t returned at first – it’s going to take time, but you are doing something great.

While you’re working towards all this joy for other people it’s possible you may have neglected someone very important: yourself. You can be kind to yourself, it’s not wrong – it’s necessary. When you smile the world smiles with you. It’s a slow process but it is possible (more on this soon).

If all this work for change has got you itching to do more, then we encourage you to find an issue you are passionate about and research so you can apply our principal that a small step can make a big difference to said issue. And while we’re on the topic of passion – if you can find something that sets your soul on fire then it’s going to revolutionise your world. Look into what you are curious about and try out something new. If doing something in person is difficult for you, the internet has a huge variety of courses for you to give a go. We promise it won’t be the end of the world if you try something and don’t like it, so you may as well.

‘You only fail when you stop trying’

‘Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if only one remembers to turn on the light’ ~Albus Dumbledore

‘You are enough’

‘Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like and celebrating it for everything it is’ ~Mandy Hale

‘You cannot find peace by avoiding life’ ~ Virginia Woolf

‘Only in the darkness can you see the stars’ ~ Martin Luther King

We hope you’ve enjoyed this short guide and now feel equipped to go forth and create your first Happy Note. You’re part of a movement now – a joyful movement.

If you make a note please do share it with us on Instagram @our.happy.notes or via email: our.happy.notes@gmail.com.

Keep Smiling. X