Last month I was honoured to receive the ‘Inspirational Woman of the Year’ Award at the Venus Awards for Devon and Cornwall. It feels very humbling to be recognised in this way, for the work I have done – and continue to do – to improve services for young people with mental health issues, and to raise awareness around this important, and ever-growing problem.
Since the Awards Ceremony in Plymouth, I have been reflecting on how I feel about the Award and what it means to have received it. For anyone who read my previous blog Venus Award Finalist: what it means to me, you will already know that even being a finalist had brought up all sorts of ‘stuff’ for me, activating my critical inner voice that tells me I’m unworthy of such an accolade. So I’m sure you can imagine that actually winning the Award has really given it something to shout about!
But, I’m not going to go back over that. Instead, I want to focus on the positives, and pushing that inner critic to one side for a moment allows me to see what else is there …
I am really proud
It’s not every day that we win an Award, even less one such as this! So, wow! I’m chuffed to bits, and I confess that a smile creeps over my face whenever I think about it. It’s a nice feeling to be recognised in this way, and given the professional upheaval I have been through over the past six months, it is really lovely, and most welcome, to receive this ‘pat on the back’. Goodness knows they’ve been in short supply in the painful separation from The Project, and starting up my new venture, The Project Training & Consultancy. We all need to feel appreciated for our efforts, and sometimes that comes in unexpected ways. This was certainly unexpected!
It has given me confidence
Setting up my new business has meant stepping once again into the unknown. Not totally unknown, as the mental health training is something I’ve been doing for over 4 years now, but I’m on my own with it now. This has led to a few wobbles in my self-belief, even while others around me have continued to believe in me. I guess the timing of ‘going it alone’ at the same time as my daughter, Jess, becoming so ill (see An insight into mental illness) hasn’t helped, as my mind, energy and focus have been very much elsewhere, and most of the time since February I’ve been signed off sick! My own mental health has, unsurprisingly, taken a bit of a knock-back, and with that, my confidence. So this Award has given me a real boost, and in those moments of self-doubt, I can look at it and remind myself of what I’ve achieved – and that it has made a difference to people’s lives.
I got to wear a posh frock!
OK, a bit of a joke but … in my work, opportunities to dress up are few and far between, so it was nice to have an excuse to put the jeans and leggings to one side and shake the moth-balls from my party dress. And I got to meet other amazing and inspiring women, and to hear their stories. Given the other women finalists in my category, and their achievements, winning becomes even more special. Just being part of the occasion was exciting and special, so winning was the icing on the cake!
It has given me a way to promote the cause I am passionate about
For me this is, perhaps, the most important part of winning this Award. Of course, being able to put on my CV and website that I’m Inspirational Woman of the Year 2018 (Devon & Cornwall) is fantastic – it sends a message to others that I must have done something good with my life, and that all helps me in promoting The Project Training & Consultancy, and the work I do. But more than that, it has given me an opportunity to gain some media coverage (see below) to highlight the crisis in mental health service provision in this country, which is seeing young people and adults being turned away from help and support on the grounds of not being ‘ill enough’ – a shocking, but sad reality.
What other area of medicine works like this? Imagine if we turned people away with cancer, or diabetes, telling them that their symptoms were not severe enough to warrant treatment. In every other area relating to health, we are focusing on early intervention and prevention – we are bombarded by campaigns that encourage people to seek help to stay well: Act F.A.S.T. (stroke), Be Clear On Cancer, Stoptober (stop smoking), Change4Life (nutrition and anti-obesity). Why then, with mental health issues, do we actually turn people away who want and are actively seeking help, because they know they are struggling and can feel themselves getting worse? Why do we think this is acceptable?
OK … this is a whole other blog in its own right, as I can feel myself getting angry just in writing those few sentences.
But, back to my point, I am thankful to have won this Award because, in writing about winning it and the media interest in the Venus Awards, it also gives me an opportunity to say why I have won it, and why that matters.
In my couple of minutes ‘acceptance speech’ (for want of a better phrase!), I spoke of the need for people to gain knowledge and understanding around mental illness, and to challenge stigma around it so people who are struggling find it easier to speak out; that we all have a responsibility to support young people – our future – to stay well and thrive in an increasingly complex and challenging world. Afterwards, at least half a dozen people spoke to me, and thanked me for saying what I did, and shared something of how mental illness had personally touched their lives. In speaking out and sharing my story and experience, it gives others permission to do the same, and knowing you are not alone with it is so important.
Every time I give a talk or deliver training, someone comes up to me at the end and thanks me for my honesty, for speaking out, for saying it like it is. After all, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, so in all likelihood, if it’s not us personally, it is likely that it will be someone in our family, our friends or our work colleagues. How then can we afford not to talk about it?
So whilst I may have put this point last, it is very much the most important part of receiving this Award, and for that alone, I am extremely grateful.
Debbie is the Founder of The Project, a successful early intervention support network for young people affected by mental health issues, based in East Devon/South Somerset. Since opening in 2013, The Project has been nominated for and won awards, and been recognised as an example of best practice at Government level for its innovative and effective approach to supporting young people.
Debbie has set up The Project Training & Consultancy, a social enterprise providing mental health awareness training, as well as consultancy around early intervention support for young people. The Project’s model has been manualised, to allow replication in other areas in response to demand, so more young people can access the help and support they need, when they need it.
Debbie was awarded Inspirational Woman of the Year 2018 at the Venus Business Awards for Devon & Cornwall.
For more information:
www.theproject-training.co.uk | e: email@example.com | t: 07874 269233