‘By speaking I can help people realise they are not alone’

We speak to Dame Kelly Holmes and Dr Crepaz-Keay about a new audio series, 'What Do I Do? Mental Health and Me'.

Having experienced her own difficulties with depression and self-harm, in What Do I Do? Mental Health and Me, Dame Kelly Holmes sets out to discover how other people cope, talking to TV personalities, writers, comedians, journalists and more about their mental health.

Kelly’s guests include: TV presenter Davina McCall; journalists Jon Ronson and Alastair Campbell; author Philip Pullman; comedians Catherine Bohart, Eddie Izzard, Felicity Ward and Rory Bremner; transgender rights activist Munroe Bergdorf; musician Amanda Palmer; and mental health experts Dr David Crepaz-Keay (Head of Empowerment and Social Inclusion at the Mental Health Foundation) and Owen O’Kane.

Why now?

Dame Kelly Holmes: I am passionate about raising the awareness of mental health issues, but also stopping the stigma that has surrounded us for decades. People fear speaking out because of being judged.

I first came out with my own struggles of depression and self-harming in 2005. What’s happening to people now is not new, it’s just people are listening. I also believe people in the public eye have a voice and by speaking I can help people realise they are not alone.

Dr Crepaz-Keay: Improving people’s understanding of mental health, mental ill-health and what we can all do to help ourselves and each other is becoming much more visible. Increasingly referred to as Mental Health Literacy, it forms and important part of the public mental health and mental health promotion field. In order to ensure that this knowledge and understanding reaches as many people as possible, I would like to see everybody talking about mental health.

What are your hopes for the series?

Dame Kelly Holmes: That it will be interesting, eye-opening, informative, funny, honest and real.

Dr Crepaz-Keay: Once heard, many will be able to identify with the stories people tell and I would like this to lead to increased understanding of a range of mental health issues; how common they are; how anyone can be affected by them; and how we can all respond positively to mental health difficulties when and where they occur.I would also hope that the series will challenge some of the myths and stereotypes that still surround, and sometimes taint, our understanding of mental health and, in particular, mental ill-health. In short, I would like the series to have as large an audience as possible and for all of these listeners to fell better informed and more able to talk about and manage the subjects addressed.

How did you include expert input?

Dame Kelly Holmes: I sat with Dr Crepaz-Keay to discuss all the topics that were raised during my interviews, so we could talk about how those listening could help themselves if needed.

Dr Crepaz-Keay: As someone who, like Dame Kelly Holmes and all the other contributors, has personal experience of living with a psychiatric diagnosis and all that goes with it, I felt privileged to be part of such an exciting project. My primary role was to explore what is known about the conditions and experiences raised by the contributors. This would include how common the conditions are; what we know about the causes; the impact they are likely to have on people’s lives, and sometimes the lives of those around them; what treatments might be offered and what people can do to help themselves or their families or friends, if they are affected.

As well as drawing on my personal experience and all that I have learned from my work at the Mental Health Foundation, I have spent a good part of the last year working with Public Health England on their national public mental health campaign. This has helped me bring a strong evidence-based approach to translating often clinical knowledge into the public mental health environment. I think it is vital that everyone understands much more about their own mental health and what they can do to support it regardless of any concerns around mental ill-health.

What were the challenges in putting the series together?

Dame Kelly Holmes: Only locations and juggling diaries. I went to all my guests’ chosen location to record the shows.

Which guests surprised you most and why?

Dame Kelly Holmes: Wow, that’s a hard question, because I went in blind just wanting to know their stories.
I think Rory Bremner and confidence issues on stage surprised me. I didn’t realise how bad it had been for Davina McCall and her alcoholism or Alistair Campbell and his psychosis… sitting on his toilet in his bathroom while he was playing the bagpipes was rather interesting! Eddie Izzard was just astonishingly bright! Sitting at a church overlooking Cardiff was surreal in many ways.

What would you like to see more of from psychology / psychologists?

Dr Crepaz-Keay: For many years mental health has been understood as shorthand for mental illness; psychologists play a vital role in helping people to understand that mental health is something we all have, regardless of the presence or absence of mental ill-health. As the series clearly demonstrates, psychologists have offered many people a great deal of support to help them deal with a whole range of challenges. But I think their most important role is giving people the skills and confidence to manage their own lives, overcome adversity and fulfil their potential.

The audiobook is available from Audible via tinyurl.com/y35udrw3

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