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Time To Change Champion

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Why is there still a stigma attached to mental health? Why are we much better at talking about physical ailments? These are questions that I think about a great deal and when I read about the Time to Change campaign I knew I wanted to be part of it. A month ago I met with Sarah who heads the West Essex team and talked through becoming a Champion.

The Time to Change Campaign is led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, its goal is to change the way people think and act about mental health problems.

I think that before I write about how chnage needs to happen I do want to say that huge steps have already been made in addressing people preconceptions and attitude towards dealing with and accepting mental health problems. This being said we have a long way to go.

Mental health probelms will affect one in four of us, yet many still fear seeking professional help  or simply voicing their issues to family members due to a stigma that is still attached to a health problem that should be as normal as telling someone you have broken a bone. When I struggle with my mental health it is like something is a little broken in me and like a broken bone it can be fixed but the crack will still be there and is a bit weaker that it had been. Telling someone you have broken your arm will always be greeted with concern and well wishes (perhaps a little joking about how it happened). Telling someone you have had to go on anti depressants and are struggling with anxiety may (at times) be responded to fairly differently. Dont get me wrong, many of my friends and family are excellent at dealing with mental health but there are still some who on learning that I have these issue will give me a wide birth or simply not know what to say. They may find the topic awkward and outside their comfort zone. With a statistic of 1 in 4 I think we need to bring mental health into all of our comfort zones.

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The Time To Change Campaign is doing exactly this, it works on many levels, from promoting good mental health with your friends it also reaches out further into the community. When I met with Sarah from West Essex Mind she was telling me about how she was trying to get the Time To Change campaign into the workplace and was contacting local businesses to give them free advice and information so that they have a mental health strategy operating. Too many employers do not have any eductaion in caring for the mental health for their staff, this is not necessarily their fault as perhaps the information hasn’t been redily available. At times employees find that they cannot admit problems that are occuring until maybe its too late and are signed off by the doctor for stress or other issues. If procedures are in place it is shown that less time off would be needed, Sarah is doing an amazing job for businesses in Uttlesford. Time To Change also works with schools and young people, I am well aware now looking back that I was depressed in my teens and at the time due to thinking that the normal teenage angst was, well, normal. I didnt do anyhting about it. More and more teenagers and young adults are needing help, which shows that we are getting better at seeking it but also says we need to educate from a younger age. On the Time To Change site there is lots of useful information for teachers too. The video below shows just how important it is to educate young people.

As a small team, the West Essex Mind hope to spread the word in the community and have stalls at local events where they offer a space to have a cup of tea and a chat. We have plans for having more of these events in local towns, maybe at fetes or country shows too, so if you are running any events and would be able to offer us a stall please get in touch with me at jojohnson8083@gmail.com.

If you feel you could offer any time to volunteer or want to become a champion yourself and live in west Essex please send Sarah an email at  sbevan@mindinwestessex.org.uk. If you live elsewhere here is the link to the main website to sign up to become a champion http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/time-change-champions/register-champion

Below I have added a video from the Time To Change website, I think it shows what they are trying to achieve and just how important it is.

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When it comes to body image, how can I be a good role model?

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After having my first daughter I developed an eating disorder, I suppose it would come under anorexia as I really struggled to eat and felt like even the smallest amount of food would make me fat, I would skip meals by telling people I was going out for dinner later (and so wouldn’t eat lunch) and then do the opposite later on in the day, some days I wouldn’t eat, on days I would eat I would then make myself sick. I looked awful, really really awful. My skin was bad, my body was all out of proportion and my hair was thinning. I weighed 7 and a half stone, I had a BMI of 16.4 (that’s seriously underweight and should be between 18.5 and 25). It impacted into every part of my life and it would cause me panic when it came to anything food related for example family events, weekends away and birthdays. It was a very low point in my life.

Fast forward to now (11 years later) I weigh 9 and half stone and have a BMI of 20.6. I try and keep myself around this weight although last year I was a stone heavier, I only lost the weight again (very slowly) so my clothes would fit better as I can’t afford to buy a whole new wardrobe. I understand that I will always have a strange relationship with food and that I can slip into a negative place from time to time, but I have come a long way since those darker days, but what I must make sure is that I do not project this bad relationship with food and body image onto my children, but just how does someone who has had (and will in a small way always have) an eating disorder do that? How does any parent do that? We all have hang ups don’t we?

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I have used my experience as a mum to three girls (one of whom is at a very delicate age of nearly 12), plus I have done a fair amount of research. Here are my ideas how we project a positive body image onto our children.

  • Listen – When my child comes to me, I listen, no matter how silly or small the problem is I give them time. Obviously there are times where you have ask them to wait till you are free, but they do get my ear eventually and I do listen. When I am faced with problems about the body, or things that have been said about their image at school I sympathise, it doesn’t matter if what has been said is ridiculous, if it has hurt your child then its serious to them and to you. I let my girls know about situations in my life where I have faced similar scenarios as by letting them into my life I feel they let me into theirs a bit more. Yes we need to be strong for our kids but they also need to know we are human too.

  • Skills, talents and achievements – As we know there is so much more to us in this life than just how we look, but as a child/ teenager there will be stages where it doesn’t feel like that. As well a listening we need to make sure that our children know that their skills and achievements are acknowledged. Many of these skills (especially academically) will stay with them forever, where as the way we look will change drastically (looking back at photos of me aged 12 is actually hysterical and only my Mum would be able to tell that it was me). We are all special and unique, we are all good at things and we should all be proud of ourselves, this doesn’t come naturally and we must help our children realise their potential. So pay your children compliments, about the way they look AND what they are good at.

  • Self Love – This is the hardest one for me, and I cant preach that I am remotely good at it, but I do know its important. We must try and show outward body confidence, easier said than done, I know, but while researching for this and contemplating writing this bit of advice (as I feel hypocritical) it got me thinking that we all must try to be more confident for the sake of our children, and I think the more we do, the more we will believe it. Remember, our children think we are the most beautiful women in the world, lets not burst their bubble!

  • Self affirmations – A while ago, my best friend Jennie said to my girls that they must believe in themselves and love themselves, she told them to write self affirmations and say them to themselves every morning. Well, they sniggered at her. Later that week I made them do it, and though they don’t read them everyday, they decorated them and we have kept them, so when we have a down day we can get them out and read them. I kept them relative to their age, very simple to more meaningful, but not too complex. I have photographed mine and an example of a child’s. Give it a go, it helped me at least.
  • Dads – My girls are lucky enough to have a Dad and a Step Dad. A man’s perspective on women and themselves is incredibly important. The way that your husband or partner talks to you and them about appearance (men and women) is as integral as you as Mum. The same goes with the way they feel about their own appearance.

  • Food  – An essential part of life is eating and if you are like me, then sometimes it can be an issue. The way I see it is that you should show your children how to be healthy (by making healthy food choices and cooking homemade food) and also by having some treats. Let them see you eat a slab of cake once in a while, or a big burger and fries. Never eat in secret, this is a something I have real knowledge of and is very harming to children, there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to eating. I know some of us women like people to think that we live off lettuce leaves and air, but when we get home will be eating ham or another quick fridge find straight out the pack. Well I am telling you, we shouldn’t do this, for ourselves and our kids. Food is great, and is a social enjoyable thing, family meals are so important too, sitting toegther and enjoying food will give your children a healthy relationship with it.
  • Modern technology –  This is THE BIG ONE. The world has changed/ evolved and nearly all kids have use of the internet and eventually social media. I read a horrendous statistic today in an article called ‘uncomfortable in your skin report’ that young girls who use social media are bombarded by up to 5000 digitally enhanced images every week, what on earth will that be doing to the way they feel they should look. I don’t believe that we can stop this, yes we can educate our children to follow appropriate people but if you have a daughter like mine I think I am asking the impossible. She loves the Kardashians and that’s that. I think as parents in this day and age we have to adjust our mindset and work with this being part of our children’s lives, we have to teach them that it’s not real and I think we can show them some amazing people who are far better role models, so that they may follow them alongside the digitally enhanced loves of their lives. I have found a few amazing instagram/ web sites that are fantastic for every one to help with body image, firstly the beautiful Megan Jayne Crabbe (bodyposipanda) and Taryn Brumfitt (body image movement) both pages are rammed full of fantastic content. I have also attached a link to Taryns trailerHere  for her amazing Embrace documentary, give it a watch and if you want to you watch the full film on Netflix, I recommend it for all you Mums and Dads out there and then decide if you want to show your children, they advise on the website that it is for age 10/11+ but as that’s at the parents discretion.

I hope this has helped and as always I have found it invigorating to write. I hate to imagine my children being unhappy with their perfect bodies but I think we have to accept at times it will happen (I know I have already faced a fair few problems with the kids), it’s about us dealing with them and supporting our children in their journey.

Thanks for reading

Jo