Ruby Tandoh on battling the stigma of discussing mental health

'Just be honest about what your feeling'

Anxiety and depression – they’re as normal as any other illness and at some point in everyone’s life, it will affect you. If not you, then someone you love. We need to face the facts about how commonplace these issues are.

The latest figures show that one in four young people in the UK experience suicidal thoughts, while up to 160 young people under the age of 20 die as a result of suicide in England alone each year. There are over 300,000 young people in Britain living with an anxiety disorder, while depression among teenagers in the UK has increased by 70% over the last 25 years.

Author, blogger and past ‘Great British Bake Off’ star Ruby Tandoh and her partner Leah Pritchard have drawn on their own first-hand experience of dealing with mental health problems to put together the zine ‘Do What You Want‘. On Mental Health Awareness Week and as part of our ‘Let’s Talk’ campaign, we talk to Tandoh about fighting the stigma that surrounds mental health, the issues facing young people, and how you can seek help if you think you’re suffering.

Leah Pritchard and Ruby Tandoh

Leah Pritchard and Ruby Tandoh

What would you say are the unique pressures facing young people today that may lead to anxiety and depression?
“I think that in the face of cuts to welfare, education and mental health support, it’s not surprising that young people are suffering from anxiety and depression. It’s a difficult and turbulent time, and none of us lives in a vacuum – particularly for the least privileged among us. It’s pretty much impossible not to let that worry sink into your bones. So much is expected of us (sell your soul to buy a house! if you save your pocket money from age five, you can afford uni!) and it’s all premised on a workaholic view of success, and this idea that if you’re not succeeding, you’re probably not trying hard enough. That stuff wears you down.”

Do you feel that enough is being done to tackle the stigma?
“People are a lot more clued up about mental health than they used to be, particularly in this generation. There’s more of a conversation happening around what depression and anxiety mean, and how common they are. That said, as much as people understand mental illness, we still have a long way to go when it comes to actually allowing for mental illness. I want a society when you can take a sick day for your mental health, and not have to lie and frame it as physical illness.”

What do you think young people can do to help overcome this?
“Be honest with your friends about what you’re feeling, and trust that your candour will help them to open up, too. Sometimes the most refreshing thing in the world to hear is just ‘I would love to meet you, but I’m just feeling really depressed/anxious/shit’. That gives you a jumping off point, and it means you can talk about what’s really going on rather than speaking in code.”

What advice would you give to anyone suffering with anxiety or depression who’s afraid about speaking out?
“There are a million resources online and in print if you’re not yet ready to talk to anyone in person just yet. Charities like Mind and Beat have loads of resources, while Centre for Mental Health has schemes in place working directly with certain groups (such as young black men, people in prison and so on) to improve mental health care and advocacy. There are also so many books and magazines – I’ve been working on a zine all about mental health called Do What You Want, which you can order at www.dowhatyouwantzine.co.uk. If I say so myself, it’s amazing.”

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