"Have some fire. Be unstoppable. Be a force of nature" - Christina Yang
This post is dedicated to all of the wonderful people involved within the Time to Change Young Champion programme, the staff, the champions. It has been a pleasure getting to know each and every one of you over the past year and a half. Thank you for the training, for the lessons learnt, for the friendships, and for the memories made.
Tomorrow is the final #TeamYoungChampion training day so I wanted to write a little bit about what it has meant to me and also to so many other Young Champions who have beautifully put into words and captured what the programme is all about, of what the last year and a half has meant to us. Whilst it feels like the end of an era, and feel super sad about that it's not quite over yet, we still have another half a year of the programme and then beyond, I have no doubt we will continue to campaign. As it is so often repeated, Team Young Champions is forever.
When I signed up to Time to Change as part of their Young Champion programme I was in the midst of a manic episode. An episode in which made me feel like I was going to change the world. Like I had the power to single handedly end all suffering. Whilst these thoughts were not entirely true and part of the mania I was experiencing, it wasn't entirely false. Correct, I could not single handedly end all suffering, that's unfortunately not possible but what I did have was passion and determination and I soon found myself surrounded by other individuals who also wanted to make a difference.
By the time the first training weekend for the programme came around, I was no longer in a state of mania, I had instead fallen back into a depressive state. I was regretting ever signing up, I didn't feel good enough, I thought my voice didn't matter and I didn't feel worthy of the opportunity when it would probably go to waste. What did I have to offer such a fantastic campaign? Why did my experiences matter, surely someone else has more to say, more to give, more to change, just more. These thoughts were eating up at me as the weekend became closer, I didn't want to go because my goodness that would be putting myself completely out of my comfort zone, going to London at all was a horrendous thought, let alone, to go into a room of around 90 Young Champions and staff. Are you kidding? I absolutely cannot do that. The night before arrived, battling my mind, not sleeping because the anxiety was keeping me awake and nauseated. But I went. Obviously. I feel like that was a bit of an anticlimax, sorry! Anyway I got to the train station and headed to London, thankfully my wonderful pal, Nassim met me in London for a brew before to ease my anxiety before walking me to the venue, which now feels like a second home, a safe space, a space of passion, shared experiences, determination and inspiration.
I have never been more pleased that I got out of that front door and outside my comfort zone. Because doing so landed me in a zone of more comfort that I could ever have imagined. I have repeatedly said how thankful I am that it sometimes feels like the words are empty, because what words really do justice to a programme that has allowed you to grow so much as a campaigner, a woman and an individual. What do you say to a programme that has helped shape your own recovery and ultimately saved your life. What do you say to a programme that has given you more skills and experience than you could have imagined. What do you say to the programme that gave you a huge sense of belonging and community? What do you say to a programme that you see making so much difference and impact on lives across the nation, in schools, in workplaces, in families, in friendship groups. What do you say to the people you have met along the way that have become so important to you, who have fought for you, with you, by your side, in your corner and who feel like part of a huge, and wonderful family. What do you say to that?
This programme has not given me a voice, it has allowed me to find my own, because it was always there, just hidden and hidden pretty well at times. But without it, I would never have realised that actually my voice did matter, I did have something to say, my story was worth sharing and I too could use my experiences to better those of others. I would never of had the confidence to jump at opportunities to stand in classrooms, meeting rooms, offices, the department of health to talk in front of bunches of humans about how we can work together to tackle stigma and discrimination whilst sharing some of my most personal moments. It has allowed me to share my experiences with those closest to me, and also far and wide through blogs, media work and social media. This is without a doubt as a result of the skills, techniques and nurture I have been shown during my time on the programme. I don't think I will ever come across a more caring, passionate and determined bunch of people as I have come across with the incredible staff at Time to Change and of course every single one of the Young Champions, that make me beam with pride when I see how much we have grown individually, and as a community.
This programme has led me to meet some of the best people, the most caring people, the kind of people that you instantly click with. The kind of people with the warmest of hearts. The kind of people that have stood by my side throughout the journey, on the small steps, the big steps and the giant leaps. I have formed lasting friendships. I have found people that believe in me when I don't believe in myself. I have found people that inspire me beyond words. I have found people that empower me daily. I have found my people.
Anyway, I am getting a tad emotional so enough of my rambles, here is what 24 other wonderful Young Champions had to say about their time on their programme.
"To put into a few words what being a young champion has given me seems impossible. The incredible people I have met, the lessons I have learnt and the confidence, self-believe and empowerment I have felt, only begin to touch on how my life has changed over the last two years. With all mentioned, I have not only been able to help reduce the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health world wide but I have been able to better my own recovery, in feeling less alone, in being more at peace with my experiences and not fearing putting my whole self out there, from writing a blog post to applying for jobs. I am beyond thankful for Time to Change and I am proud to be apart of such a wonderful campaign." - Nicole Williams
"Being a Young Champion has been an amazing experience, and I have made friends for life. The Young Champion programme has given me the confidence and the tools to challenge mental health stigma, and the opportunity to share my story in schools and at events has been incredible. The best thing about being a Young Champion is being part of a community of people who all have the same mission and who inspire you everyday." - Mary George
"As a Young Champion I’ve had some great opportunities, delivering testimonies and getting to give a keynote speech were real highlights. However my real favourite thing has been the surprise of finding a sense of community and inspiration with the other young champions. It sounds ridiculous but I’m a bit of a grump and a cynic and I was expecting to enjoy the opportunities but I never expected to make such good friends or to feel so strongly that I am part of something, it’s been brilliant and I’ve come through this a more empathetic and open person. I’m grateful to have learnt so much from the programme but also the other Young Champions. Getting to watch people grow and share in their journeys has been a real privilege. And the flapjacks and free lunches. Mostly the food." - Katie Bambury
"I have most enjoyed the confidence and self-esteem that being a Young Champion has given me, by connecting me with a group of like-minded and inspirational mental health champions and allowing me to share my story with them and with others about my mental illness struggles. I am hugely grateful for these opportunities and cannot thank Time to Change enough for improving my confidence and self-esteem around doing new things, speaking to strangers, meeting new people and travelling to new places. Being a Young Champion has allowed me the opportunity to no longer be ashamed of my mental illness and to use it as a way to help others. I’m hoping to continue to do this by challenging the stigma around mental illness in society even if it’s just by sharing my story online or reaching out to a friend who’s struggling." - Peter Shaw
"What I have enjoyed most about being a Young Champion has been meeting with other like minded people who share a same passion. I'm so grateful to have made some very close friends, and to grow in confidence around speaking out and using my story." - Lizzi Northwood
"Being a Young Champion has been a brilliant experience; I have met so many wonderful people who I can be myself around, no worry about being judged. It’s been amazing having a group of people who understand me and who share my goals and ambitions. It’s empowering to know we have made a difference and that we are involved in making a change for the better. It has boasted my confidence and helped me accept my illness." - Mellissa Lewins
"I’m grateful for the chance to meet like minded people, and given the opportunity to feel like I can make a positive difference in the world of mental health." - Bryony Hacker
"The decision to attend the first Young Champion training felt like a massive step, but I’m so glad I took it. What I’ve enjoyed most about the programme is meeting different people from all different backgrounds but who can come together and listen to each other’s experiences with respect. I’m grateful that it’s helped me build the confidence to share my experiences both online with hundreds of people, but more so with my close family, something I found much more challenging. I have had such good responses from friends and family. The proudest moment I’ve experienced associated with the programme is my friend telling me they are much more open about their mental health and their bad days because of me and how I’ve normalised the conversation. Even just coming from that one person makes being a Time to Change Young Champion more than worth it." - Bronte Cook
"I am so grateful for feeling like I can be more confident and open about talking about my own struggles with mental health due to all the amazing other young champions." - Alice Daly
"Being a Time To Change Young Champion has been an exhilarating experience. From walking through the door on the first day of training through to the various events I have had the opportunity to take part in, including the ten-year anniversary at the department of health, the support from the staff and fellow Young Champions has been outstanding. My favourite aspect of being a Young Champion is undoubtedly the opportunity you get to hear the stories people have because everyone has an experience of mental health difficulties be it personal or that of a friend, colleague, family member or a complete stranger." - James Woods
"Suffering from a mental illness can sometimes feel isolating and you may think that no-one else could ever understand the experience you’re having. Entering into time to change and becoming a Young Champion was like walking into a brand new world. One where you were accepted explicitly for who you were, how you felt and how you behaved - that feeling is something I will always be grateful for. What have I enjoyed the most? Meeting the most incredible and inspiring people, they are truly special." - Elly Kirk
"I am grateful to the Young Champion programme for always providing top-notch sandwiches and thought provoking training. I am grateful that I have met so many creative, kind and driven Young Champions who care about stuff that matters." - Marianna Karavidas
"Being a Young Champion has given me so many opportunities that I wouldn't have normally had. Being able to share my story has been the most enjoyable part due to it being so liberating and also having such positive responses. I am extremely grateful for these opportunities and also the support that goes alongside them. The staff and other Young Champions have been amazing and have always made me feel comfortable and able to express my views. Working for time to change has definitely increased my confidence and made me proud of my journey and where i am today." - Lucy Fisher
"The thing I have enjoyed the most about being a Young Champion is being able to share each others experiences knowing that we will not be judged and knowing that we are not alone. Everyone helps if someone needs advice. I am grateful for the Young Champions programme as it has given me more confidence and I feel more comfortable about talking about my mental health with friends, family and work colleagues." - Becca Crole-Rees
"Being a Young Champion to me has meant being part of a stigma busting family. But it's also been more than that, the other young champions have been some of the most supportive people in my life. It has been amazing to be surrounded by such incredible and inspirational people, not just the Young Champions but the Time to Change staff as well I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have been given, they have been amazing. It has been such a great experience. I have enjoyed every minute of it and I can't wait to continue my Time to Change journey." - Abbie Brewer
"Being a Young Champion for Time to Change has given me a new boost of confidence, friends for life and more confidence in myself. I will never forget speaking in front of hundreds of people at Reading Univeristy because previously I would have ran away, i'd be terrified but it was the most amazing experience, I got so many amazing kind words after and its something I am incredibly proud of. It's always an absolute pleasure and I am incredibly lucky to know so many inspirational and understanding other Young Champions and staff." - Jacob People
"Since becoming a part of the Young Champion Programme with Time to Change, I have been able to realise and start to face my demons. During my time with Time to Change I have been talking about my difficult times with my Mental Health to individuals, schools, groups and even on Radio and the Media. I've found the experience has been incredible and has helped raise me up from one of my worst moments nearly two years ago; it has helped me discover who I am and what I am capable of doing. Proving people who thought wrongly of me because of my mental health, wrong. That I can do this, I can overcome this." - Leah Barfield
"The Young Champion programme has been an amazing experience. From the dedicated team running the programme to the passionate champions themselves it has been an incredible movement to be a part of. Being able to see, first hand, the energy and motivation to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health has been inspiring. Every single one of the champions is well deserving of their title!" - Luke Watkin
"My time as a Young Champion has been amazing. I've managed to collaborate with some fantastic people, talk people's ears off about mental health, and taken my writing in a whole new direction whilst feeling oh so supported by my fellow champs. There are things I wish I could have done more of, but time to change has taught me most of all the importance of self-care and knowing when to put myself before all else. Thank you to all you champions for inspiring me, and thank you to the team for making it all possible!" - Zoe Hazel
"For me, the best part it is perhaps speaking at Reading University last year for the Charlie Waller Trust. It didn't necessarily go as I would have liked, but I remain grateful to have presented to an audience who were highly respected in their professions. Had a very good team to support me also, both staff and other Young Champions.''Being a Young Champion has opened new gateways into campaigning and influencing on the mental health agenda and meeting some very fine people as part of that journey too!" - Jack Welch
"What I have enjoyed most about being a Young Champion is having a platform to be appreciated for more than just someone with a diagnosis - I have a voice that deserves to be heard as much as anyone's. I felt this so strongly when I made the opening comments at a parliamentary roundtable, about the mental health provisions for CYP. I've also loved being a part of a community who are a part of the culture shift towards mental health that this society has so desperately needed." - Hannah Lewis
"The work done as a Young Champion has been an eye opening experience overall, from the training days, to speaking in schools and at events. Picking particular memories is a difficult one personally. But I am grateful for the entirety of Time To Change, for showing me what I’m capable of, encouraging me to push myself and has shown me that there is such a large and supportive community outside of my mind and my own support network." - Leanne Smith
"Time to change has without a doubt improved my confidence. It has not only given me great experiences for my CV and in life but it has given me life lasting friendships which I am really grateful for. The other Young Champion's have supported me during times of difficulties, which I haven't had before so it gave me a wonderful sense of community." - Celine Bickerdike
"The thing I have enjoyed the most about being a Young Champion is meeting like-minded people who are all so inspiring and who, like me want to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness. The thing I am most grateful for is for the opportunity to develop as a person. Being a Young Champion has allowed me to gain so much more confidence and to also be myself. I honestly can't imagine how different my journey would have been if I had decided not to fill in the application form (which nearly happened)!" - Rosie Evans
"Don't let fear keep you quiet. You have a voice, so use it. Speak up. Raise your hands. Shout your answers. Make yourself heard. Whatever it takes, just find your voice, and when you do, fill the damn silence." - Meredith Grey