Whilst, 2017 has contained some incredibly heart-breaking events, it has also been one full to the brim of positive moments, wonderful memories, and incredible humans. As 2017 is drawing to a close, I wanted to dedicate a post to the wonderful women who have empowered me this year because women who empower other women are quite honestly my favourite type of people. Empowered women, empower women. This is definitely in no way an exhaustive list, if I wrote about every single human that had impacted me this year, well, I may as well publish a book, or a series in that fact. In no particular order here are some of the incredible souls that have empowered me in 2017.
Lauren Q (@laurenquig90)
Although I am struggling to find words that can actually do justice for the level of gratitude I have for this woman, I will try my best. It feels like I have known this one for my entire life, we have had a lifetime of memories in only a year or so. One of life's greatest moments is meeting a new person and having an instant click, through similarities, shared experiences and in this case also lots of self deprecating humour. Despite various health difficulties, she works tirelessly, using her experiences to change attitudes and lives across the country. We have laughed (and cried a lot) together, fought various battles and been there to support each other unconditionally. To have someone in my life that can understand both living with a chronic physical illness and a mental illness, someone who just 'gets it', with no judgement, or explanations needed has helped me endlessly - though I am sorry that you are suffering, you deserve nothing but happiness in a pain free body. I honestly have no idea what I would have done without you, especially recently, your support, understanding and ability to put a smile on my face on days that seem hopeless. You have made my life infinitely better & I could not be more thankful for your friendship.
Grace A (@Gracebelieved) and Abbie M (@happyabbie)
These two lovelies have, for the past year, shown such incredible support for both my campaigning journey and in my personal life. It still feels quite ridiculous how strong our friendships have become in just over a year after meeting through shared passion for mental health campaigning via social media. Abbie, I was fortunate enough to meet for the first time at the end of 2016 where she was sharing her experiences at an event I had attended, she then went on to support my Time to Talk Day Event earlier this year and has become a wonderful, caring and supportive friend whom I am very grateful to have crossed paths with. Abs herself has recently founded a youth and peer support project which you can follow over at @ourwayproject on twitter, the impact she is making, through using difficult experiences for the good is something that inspires me each and every day. Gracie, well we actually only first met in person in October of this year, after being 'virtual friends' for over a year, and having also started working together through Student Minds. So where did we meet? Oh just at Buckingham Palace, on World Mental Health Day - thought a casual coffee date in Pret would have been a bit over the top and wanted to do something subtle instead. The work she carries out to improve the lives of university students across the country is incredible, and something we, as a country, and a world desperately need. It has been an absolute privilege getting to know you, as a friend and as a fellow campaigner
Joss Cox (@JocelynCox11)
First things first, this woman forever understates just how much of an impact she is having in the world - you'll pass on a compliment and she will throw one right back. If you have had the pleasure of meeting Joss, or even just seeing her tweets, then you will know how much pride she has of the young campaigners, self named the 'Team Young Champions' that volunteer with Time to Change, whom she oversees as Involvement Officer. What you might not know, is actually that for myself, and for many others, much of our success we can owe to Joss. As I wrote that I could hear her saying "first and foremost you owe your success to yourself", of course, as a campaigner I have worked hard to change attitudes, but my journey would not have led me to where I am today without this passionate, determined and incredible woman. I started my journey back in September 2016, I walked into a room of 80 other young people aged 16-25 nervous and sceptical of what I had signed up to, though I didn't speak much to Joss on this weekend, I do remember her enthusiastic nature bouncing through the room ready to tackle stigma with the force of passionate young campaigners. For those unaware of the role Joss has within Time to Change, she is essentially responsible for everything #TeamYoungChampion related, from organising training sessions, such as learning how to tell our story, working with the media, creating campaigns to delivering sessions in schools to teachers and/or students. This was just a brief overview of the work she carries out every day, but to put it simply, she is the reason I, and so many other young people have become the campaigners that they are today. Joss uses her own experiences to create social change encouraging people to be more open and honest than ever before. She is someone that I have such a huge amount of respect for and look up to each and every day as an advocate, as an involvement officer, as a woman and as a person. Thank you for training me to become the campaigner I am today; for supporting me every step of the journey, the small steps, the big steps, and the damn right leap of faiths; for believing in me when I didn't believe in myself; for inspiring me every single day to keep fighting because "Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light" and finally for empowering me to be the best version of myself, for myself. I am so ready for Joss to read this and throw back some modest comment, but I honestly could not have campaigned in the way I have, or become the woman I have without her influence, caring nature, and warm heart and for that, and for changing, improving, and saving my life I thank you.
Time to Change CYP Team
What is there to say other than thank you? This is the team that gave me the training, support and encouragement to, for the first time in my life, speak out about my own experiences, not only to my loved ones, which seemed impossible when I signed up with TTC as a Young Champion, but also to the public. The team have provided me with so many incredible opportunities, which I would never have thought possible without them all. I will be forever thankful for all they have taught me, the skills I have gained and the support they have provided every step of the way. They have made me feel so much more comfortable and confident and that is all down to their kind-hearted, warm and caring nature. Each and every member of that team has helped to shape me into the campaigner and person I am, my life changed for the better the moment I began volunteering with Time to Change.
Sue Baker (@suebakerTTC) and Jo Loughran (@JoLoughran)
An absolute dream duo, incredibly passionate, warm hearted and dedicated women! I am so thankful for having such strong, determined and passionate women to look up to, to strive to be like each and every day. Sue is the director of Time to change, with over 20 years of experience in challenging mental health stigma by setting up groundbreaking anti-stigma campaigns both in the UK and also in New Zealand. I met Sue earlier this year when I was invited to speak to a minister in the department of health. I am sure she won’t mind me saying I was actually far more nervous to meet her than I was speaking in the department of health. She was the director of an organisation I was so passionate about; a woman who had identified what the country needed and took it upon herself to set up an incredible campaign to achieve this all whilst fighting her own battles. I didn’t have time before the meeting to introduce myself to her personally, so we first met in the meeting room with the minister where I spoke about my experiences personally and as a young champion with Time to Change. We then spoke after and the sincerity in her words of gratitude was something I won’t forget, her kind heart shone through and it gave me a huge sense of pride. She has since been incredibly supportive of my journey and my campaigning work. Jo is the operations director at Time to Change, with over a decade of experience in the UK charity sector Jo has specialised in behaviour change campaigns, mental health anti-stigma campaigns, lived experience leadership, with particular focus on young people. I first met Jo at my initial training with TTC in September 2016, as someone who had worked on the CYP programme; the training of young champions was something she was particularly passionate about, which from only one speech you could really see. During her welcome speech to us all she spoke of her personal experiences, which brought her to where she is today (absolutely smashing social change across the UK nonetheless). Whilst it was incredibly emotive, it was also extremely refreshing and inspiring to hear someone speak so openly and honestly about their experiences, something at this time I felt impossible to do myself. I thank you for being the first person, whom I saw stand up and share their story. I thank you for inspiring me to become the campaigner I am today through sharing my own story. I thank you for your role in changing attitudes and behaviours.
Okay, so technically this isn’t really ‘women empowerment’ more just a generally awesome group of people who empower me every single day. It just didn’t feel right to write this post without giving a special mention to those that inspire me each day to stand up in the face of injustice and to continue campaigning. #TeamYoungChampions are a group of young people passionate about changing attitudes and behaviours and tackling the stigma attached. I have shed countless tears of pride over the past year or so, seeing their confidence flourish, the achievements made, and honestly every step of their journey both small and large. These are some of the most warm hearted, caring, and wonderful all round individuals I have ever had the pleasure to meet and I would not be half the campaigner or person without the support, encouragement and inspiration of this lovely bunch of people. Thank you for all of your hard work and for creating a more open and honest world than ever before.
Emma Warren (@EmmaWarren_) and Ellie Stone (@EllieStone_)
When it comes to the media, it is so important that the portrayal and reporting is responsible when discussing mental illness. The media is an incredibly significant and powerful way of both educating and influencing public perceptions, so needless to say, when done correctly the media can be a great way of raising awareness and tackling stigma by challenging attitudes and misconceptions. However, when journalism is irresponsibly carried out, it can increase stigma, promote myths as truths and cause a greater lack of understanding. Within Time to Change, Emma and Ellie both provide a vast amount of media outlets a range of different services and support to ensure the journalism is accurate and sensitive. Part of this includes the provision of case studies of those with lived experience and publishing comments on breaking stories, which may have done particularly well in their journalism or ones, which have produced upset. Both Emma and Ellie have given me the knowledge of how to work with the media and provided me with huge levels of support, before, during and after working on a certain piece. I have had overall such an incredibly positive experience of working with the media, generating huge reach, and encouraging responses and the wonderful feedback Emma and Ellie have provided has only helped me to increase in confidence with media work and better myself. Of course, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, and sometimes working with the media can be hard, disheartening and evoke a range of emotions. Thankfully, I have only had one really negative experience but I cannot say thank you enough to these women for the support that I was given following this; with advice provided for the steps that could be taken and reassurance that I had their support. These two fabulous women are a huge part of the reason that we are gradually seeing more positive and accurate examples of mental illness being portrayed in the media. Thank you for all you do, for the 3 in 4, from the 1 in 4.
Andrea Wade (@its0kaytotalk) and Lucy Nichol (@Lucy_Nichol78)
I was fortunate enough to meet these two lovelies in September at a Time to Change 'Story Camp', in which we were all honoured to have been asked to be guest speakers for. We had already had a lot of communication with each other through social media platforms, but it was so wonderful to actually meet in person. Not only are they both wonderful friends, whom I am very thankful to have in my life, the work they both carry out to raise awareness through mental health campaigning is something that leaves me beaming with pride and inspires me endlessly. Andrea's vlogs have, whilst being incredibly emotional and at times leaving me in tears they have also empowered me to one day finally start my own vlogs. She is a woman who, despite suffering deeply has continued to fight for herself and others, and that is something I hope she is incredible proud of herself for, because the MH community certainly is exceptionally proud of her. Lucy's writing is beyond phenomenal, and is something I very much strive to be able to achieve myself in the future. Her words contain such strong emotion, power, and are a force for change. Thank you to both of you, for raising awareness, evoking change and for being all round wonderful individuals who I am very proud to call friends.
Bryony Gordon (@bryony_gordon)
I first came across Bryony's work in 2016, following the release of her bestselling memoir 'Mad Girl'. This is without a doubt one of the most impactful books I have ever read. It was honest, emotive, with no sugar coating in her detailed portrayal of her experiences. Once I picked this book up it was something I found very hard to put down, it had completely touched my heart to read such a fantastic portrayal of the realities of living with a mental illness, and for Bryony, the focus of the book was living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. One quote that has stayed in my mind was "All I am doing for that twenty minutes or so is trying to stay alive. The only thing that matters is that I continue to breathe". Since then I have followed Bryony's mental health work, through her articles in the telegraph, her podcast 'Mad World', her journey to running the London Marathon for heads together, and the creation of 'Mental Health Mates'. I was fortunate enough to meet Bryony after she had sat for a live interview at the 'Mental Wealth Festival', in September of this year. I was nervous as I first approached her to speak with her, thank her for all she had done and continues to do, and obviously ask for a shameless fan girl photo, however her down-to-earth, warm-hearted nature put myself and two other Time to Change Young Champions (Mary and Rachel) at total ease. In a brief 10 minute chat, I had classically managed to make some self-deprecating remark (would it really be me talking without one?) to which Bryony quickly jumped in and told me how wonderful the work I was doing was and that I should be proud of myself. To hear this from anyone is powerful, but especially powerful hearing it from someone you very much look up to as a voice for mental health.
Deborah FW (@DeborahFW), Sofie Hagen (@SofieHagen) & all Guilty Feminists (@GuiltFemPod)
Last, but definitely not least, my favourite Guilty Feminists. These are the definition of women empowering other women. I was introduced to the 'Guilty Feminist Podcast' at the end of 2016, start of 2017 - thankfully being a little late to the party meant I could listen to several shows in one hit, whilst now I have to patiently wait a week between episodes - but it is so totally worth it. The podcast mixes the destruction of the patriarchy with comedy, which has often left me laughing in public places, usually the underground resulting in a lot of unusual looks. As they say "unexplained public laughter disrupts the patriarchy", so I will continue to laugh my way down the Victoria Line. This podcast, has not only given me the confidence to stand up, grab a sledgehammer and smash down the patriarchy in my day to day life, but it has also made me laugh on even my darkest of days, and for that I am incredibly thankful to the work carried out my Deborah Frances-White and Sofie Hagen in setting up such a wonderful community of guilty feminists. You have inspired masses to use their voices, for the better, for equality, for what is right. Thank you.
I encourage you all to take some time to think about some of the positives that have happened in your life this year, who has supported you and who has empowered you this year. Wishing you all a healthy 2018, surrounded by people who support you unconditionally.