World Mental Health Day Interview: Charlotte Underwood
In the second of our interview series around World Mental Health Day 2018 we spoke to Charlotte Underwood, writer, blogger and mental health advocate. Charlotte openly talks with us about her own mental ill health, views surrounding it and the everyday awareness of wellbeing.
Tell us a little bit about yourself / career history / what you do now.
I’ve only had a few jobs in my lifetime, I did the typical route of retail and then I found myself in an office. I actually found that I enjoyed what my last job entailed but it didn’t work out for me, because I had to put my mental health first.
Because my mental health has got to this level where working a ‘typical’ job makes me very ill, I took the step to become self-employed and do what I love – write! I am a writer, blogger and mental health advocate, operating under the same name of Charlotte Underwood.
It’s the best choice I made for my wellbeing.
What inspired you to go in to the line of work you are in?
It was all chance but I think being self-employed suits me. I think some of us are not cut out for jobs that deal with many other people but that’s okay. I think this stigma that freelancing and self-employed people do not have real jobs is completely wrong.
Tell us something that you like about yourself.
I’m incredibly resilient. I always find my feet, even when things don’t just crumble, they cave in. Through my mother’s stroke, my father’s suicide, multiple events that left me traumatised and plenty of ‘failures’ (which turned out to be lessons), I am still here, alive and breathing and trying my best each day. Sometimes the best thing we can do is simply survive!
How do you support your own mental health day to day? Any wellbeing tips?
I focus all my day on my mental health and I adapt it to do whatever I need to do for my wellbeing on that day. Usually, writing is something I always do and it’s always my top tip, anyone can write about anything and it’s amazing because it’s this healthy outlet and form of therapy that is 100% free! But most importantly, just understanding my limits and focusing on my real needs over the needs of others, that’s what keeps me fighting.
This years ‘theme’ for WMHD is Youth. What do you think is key in helping our young people of today with their mental health? Also looking back at your time at school, what do you think could have helped support your own mental health?
It’s all about talking. Parents, teachers and all the generations who are young will look up to need to set the example that it’s okay to talk about mental health and that mental illness is actually pretty normal.
My time in school was horrible, actually, I believe that school was one of the biggest triggers of my mental health deteriorating and my mental illness growing. Maybe, if I had more support at school, not only would I have more academic success but I may also be able to navigate the adult world better and feel healthier in terms of my mental state.
When we talk about education in mental health, what does this look like to you?
It’s about real and honest stories of mental health survivors. No textbook can truly tell you how someone thinks and feels. We are all so beautifully individual and the only way we can begin to educate about mental health, is by listening to many people who have lived through mental illness. There is no better understanding than from those who are on the front line, who have been there and who have fought.
What do you think is the cause(s) of the current epidemic in youth mental ill-health?
Personally, I think this epidemic has always been there. We live in a society where generations and generations have learned that mental ill health is not a real thing or at least it is not a thing that should be talked about. Stigma affects everyone from our great-grandparents to our innocent toddlers. The cause is a lack of communication between humanity in general, we still find it so hard to talk about these taboo subjects and many of us don’t want to listen.
How would you want to be supported in your workplace ideally? What key things would you write in to the wellbeing strategy.
As a self-employed writer, it seems strange to think that I even have a workplace at all. But I actually left my last job for the exact reason that my mental health was not taken seriously, so as my own boss, it’s my job to make sure it is. It means that I have to not take on too much work (to prevent burnout) and to learn to say no, find time for holiday and always prioritise my mental health. It’s about love, support and remembering that work can wait for one day but my mental health can’t.
Do you think there is a difference in how we talk about mental ill health at work vs at home?
This entirely depends on your confidence and trust in talking to others. Some people are comfortable with talking to everyone about their mental health, others may not feel able to talk to their family and others may not talk to their friends and colleagues. We are all so different but if a person feels safe, and knows there is no risk – like losing their job or being rejected by people they care about, then mental health can be talked about a lot easier.
In relation to your own mental health, what is your biggest life lesson so far?
There is no health without mental health – a quote that sums it up!
When you hear ‘It’s ok not to be ok’ what does this make you think.
It means that you are allowed to think and feel. You are a human with thoughts and feelings. We all go through trauma and pain and it’s okay to feel those things, it is a part of life, it is living. But there should never be any shame in feeling depressed or mentally unwell because having those thoughts are just as valid and shockingly normal as the flu or a cold.
One of Be Empowered goals is to empower self care and self help, do you agree and why do you think we deem this as very important?
Self-care and self-help are so important for recovery. While mental illness is not something that anyone should fight alone, doing little things for yourself and being empathic and kind to your own being goes a long way to recovery. I wouldn’t be in recovery now if I didn’t practice self-care. We need to remember that we deserve just as much love and support like everyone else, which includes giving it to ourselves.
Be Empowered provide Mental Health First Aid training in the workplace, do you think there needs to be a first aider in all workplaces?
I believe that everyone has a right to first aid in the workplaces and everyone deserves to be treated with basic medical attention as and when they need it. Dealing with a panic attack is just as important as dealing with an open cut. MH first aid is something that taught me so much about the right way to help others in crisis, so I know first hand how much it can teach employers how to be more empathic, understanding and supportive. We all are human after all and we needed to be treated that way at work.
What are your parents / grandparents views on mental ill health?
My grandparents have never in my life mentioned mental health or mental illness, which I believe stands to answer itself. My parents never understood so much, my mother has only now in her 50’s started her journey into understanding mental health whereas my dad started learning about it when I was chronically anxious, he researched so he could help me better. Sadly my father passed by suicide and was suffering for a long time, so I suppose part of his views were self-stigmatised and he couldn’t get the help he needed, though he’d give the world to help others.
What does the term ‘recovery’ mean to you?
Recovery is a state where you feel like you have some grasp on your mental ill health, where you feel a bit more human. It can go up, down and all around but as long as you are maintaining your wellbeing, so that you can breathe, that’s recovery.
Finally, At Be Empowered, we use a variety of wellbeing strategies and one of them is daily affirmations, what would your affirmation be?
My affirmation would be similar to a quote from my favourite movie “Don’t let the fear of striking out stop you from playing the game”. I think it’s important to keep going, no matter at what pace or down what path. SO I won’t let my fears stop me from following my dreams.
You can view Charlotte’s work and reach her on the following;
We want to say a big thank you to Charlotte for taking the time to talk to us so openly and hope you too found it as inspiring!