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Mental Health Awareness with Anna Williamson

A problem shared
Two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes and yet it is a health issue that is still underestimated. As part of Mental Health Week, we caught up with TV presenter Anna Williamson, who after battling her own mental health problems, is flying the flag for sufferers of mental health issues. After the spellbinding success of her book Breaking Mad: The Insider’s Guide to Conquering Anxiety, which shot to the Amazon number one spot last year, she is bringing her personal experiences of mental health to the stage with tales of her journey and life-enhancing techniques for grasping a hold of your own mental health and taking control.

What can we expect from Breaking Mad Live?
The event is very much an intimate chat – it’s me, my story and a chance for people to take some time out of their lives to come and listen to my story about mental health and emotional wellbeing and how I ended up being diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). As much as it is my story, there is the professional side of my journey and how I ended up going into therapy and coaching and so now it’s me imparting my top techniques in how we can all look after our own mental health and identify areas in our lives that could use some improvement. 

Tell us about your story battling mental health issues
Well it was one hell of a transition. I was at the lowest ebb of ebbs ever and was diagnosed in my mid 20s with GAD. At this point I had a choice to wallow in it, or crack on with it and learn how to manage it effectively. I ended up being fascinated by mental health and it just fuelled this real desire to help. I didn’t anticipate doing anything with my interest in mental health but gradually I realised that I could and it went from there. The TV picked up on it and it grew into me being a spokesperson for mental health. I joined Mind as an official ambassador for them a couple of years ago and did a lot of work about destigmatisation. It got to the point where I was talking in public so much about my mental health it seemed like an obvious idea to put it down in book form.

What did you envisage the book looking like?
The idea for the book was that people could access my story and my tried and tested techniques. My transition was a gradual one over 10 years, but when I was a kids’ TV presenter in my early 20s I would never have imagined I would be at this point that not only am I writing books about it but I am doing live shows about it.

And your personal journey to this point has gone hand in hand with a gradual increase in awareness.
Yes, I think mental health is being talked about a lot more which is a really good thing, it’s Mental Awareness Week and it’s great. Mental health and wellbeing and looking after myself is just a part of my life now so it seems very normal to share with others that it is normal.

What small actions can we all take to look after our mental health and the mental health of people close to us?
I think baby steps are key. It’s about asking yourself ‘am I happy?’ If that answer is any way ‘no I am not 100 per cent happy, relaxed and content in life’, then ask yourself what you can do. I think we need to also think about if we are saying yes to too many things and if that is any way detrimental to you.
Then think, are you holding this all in or can you talk about this to someone, even just that little gripe or grown, it’s so worth communicating and getting it out. For example, for me it was my personal and private life and I wasn’t enjoying my job.

What will audiences get out of your show?
I hope audiences will find my show some good ‘me-time’ and use it as an opportunity to learn and understand a little more about the common mental health issues that we all experience.
The main thing is learning about yourself and reflecting on your own life and the changes you can make to understand your emotional health and wellbeing.

Awareness is increasing, but what do you want the future to look like?
I think we still have a long way to go until it has parity with physical health.
We are on a crescendo of a wave of campaigning and that has been building up for years but I think we’ve got several years of working on this and making changes within work places, within families and schools until we get to the point where it’s ok and part of everyday practice to safeguard your wellbeing.
I hope that when my son grows up, I can ask him ‘what are you doing about your mental health’ like it’s the most normal and natural question.

Anna Williamson’s Breaking Mad comes to Wimbledon on 26 June

For advice on mental wellbeing:

Rebecca Fennel Photography