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Here is an article I have just written for Young Minds magazine (due out in Ocotber)-

I arrived at Leeds University in September 2005 to begin my degree with the usual combination of excitement and nerves.

However, what made both my excitement and nerves more palpable was my pre-existing mental health condition.

In the summer of 2004, I had an acute stress induced psychotic episode whilst on holiday in Rome. I returned to the UK and spent a week in a psychiatric ward. Although I was discharged I started to feel depressed. After being prescribed anti-depressant medication, my mood picked up and a few months later my application to study Spanish at Leeds was accepted.

I settled in to uni life reasonably well. I had friends in my accommodation and was enjoying the course. However, something was missing. I was still healing from what happened in Rome, and really needed support. What I needed was someone who had been through what I had, a student or group of students who could help me back on to my feet and vice versa.

I had the idea in the back of my mind to start up a group but didn’t have the confidence to step up and organise it. For the first two years at Leeds, I relied solely on CBT. It was only in the final year of the course that I felt strong enough to take the plunge and get something started. I mentioned the idea to my best friend who thought It could really work. “If you don’t do it now, you’ll regret it,” he said. I thought these were wise words and started to act.

I started off by producing some posters saying that I wanted to form a mental health society in the university, and put them up around campus. I got about 10 emails back, including an especially enthusiastic one from a guy called Eddy.

Eddy had been thinking of doing something similar, having been affected by mental ill health in his family. Together we planned how the society would operate, when our first meeting would be etc. It was a very exciting time getting everything together and figuring out how to get people to join up. We decided we wanted to get as many people on board as possible, from medical students to those passionate about campaigning. It was going to be quite a challenge getting mentally ill students to sign up to the society, but we persevered. Emails went out all across the uni and we soon had our first meeting.

At the first meeting, people interested in sitting on the committee were asked to submit an application. With the committee in place, we could start planning our first big event, The Mind Matters Day.

Set to take place in the university’s Healthy Week, The Mind Matters Day would be a unique opportunity to promote positive mental health within the university. Society members were delegated various tasks and regular committee meetings were held to get everything in place. The event turned out to be a huge success. More than 200 people came and we had everything from free massages to how to cook good brain food. It was enormously satisfying seeing it all come together and a real team bonding experience for the committee.

The Mind Matters Day set the wheels in motion and we had a couple of successful events afterwards. Rufus May, an experimental psychologist, came to speak to the society. We also had a talk from a local writer, Jean Davison who has written a book about her experiences in a psychiatric hospital.

The Mind Matters Society gave me a huge confidence boost and got me engaged with mental health. I loved every minute of it and know that next year, it’ll continue to grow. Eddy is currently travelling round the country encouraging students at other universities to set up similar societies.

Although I initially just wanted to be part of a support group, acting as president of The Mind Matters proved to be something which empowered me to feel comfortable with my problems and much more able to talk about them openly.

However, I realise there is a silent majority of students who choose not to talk about their problems. We carried out a survey which found that 16.6% of students would not even seek help if they had a mental illness. More worryingly, 48.8% of students were unsure or did not know where to get help for mental health problems on campus. It is evident that more needs to be done throughout UK universities to promote university counselling services. Over 50% of Leeds’ students still felt there was a stigma attached to mental health. It is societies like The Mind Matters that will help to reduce this figure and enable students with mental health problems to come forward and not be embarrassed about their problems.

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A: The intrusion of your private life by gossip thirsty no marks and shameless sensationalisation of your mental illness.

And so I begin my first blog with a scathing rant. But I feel this is a good place to start. I sat down in front of the TV last night, and in a moment of boredom flicked on to MTV.I saw that the programmeKerry Katona: What’s the Problem? was just about to start. I knew the programme was a reality show based on Kerry Katona and her battle with bipolar disorder, and being interested in mental health issues, I tuned in.

I had one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences ever. From the outset the programme angered me, but as is the case with most reality TV there was that strange X factor (pardon the pun!!) that kept me watching. This X factor is what keeps the MTV generation happy and passive- the minutiae of celebrities’ private lives.

The programme is produced in such a way that Katona’s illness is both sensationalised and devauled. The sound of doors slamming is amplified as Katona and her husband argue. Close up shots of her children listening in to Katona swearing add to the sense of unrest. Editing means that Kerry is constantly shown either buoyed by mania or gripped by depression. Furthermore, the use of music in the programme is absolutely disgraceful. Razorlight’s jaunty Before I Fall to Pieces soundtracks one of Katona’s low points. If that wasn’t cringeworthy and inappropraite enough, the ‘fairground waltz to signify mental illness’ is employed frequently when Katona is behaving manically.

I couln’t help but feel sorry for Katona. She is trapped within the confines of her own house by a TV camera poised and ready to capture Kerry’s latest breakdown and a cesspit* of paparazzi urging her to act out. The viewers of this show are nothing more than paying entrants to MTV’s very own zoo, which features its very own mentally ill former girlband member. “Look Mummy she drinks too much! And look at all those cigarettes she smokes! And what about her funny moods!”.

North One Television, the production company responsible for the programme, handle the issue of Kerry’s illnes completely wrongly. Instead of choosing to educate and inform the audience, the makers of the programme opt for scandal and flashpoints. For a more accurate and informative study of bipolar disorder, the BBC’S The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive is much better.

Now you may say that people don’t tune in to such programmes to be educated about mental illness. But in a mediascape where mental health is only just emerging, such programmes may be young people’s only way of learning about mental illness. It is vital that MTV redresses the balance and starts to educate as well as to entertain.

However, earlier last night I watched an excellent BBC programme called Tourette’s: I Swear I Can’t Help It. The programme documented the lives of two Tourette’s sufferers, John and Greg and how they dealed with their problems. Funny, sensitive and with a lightness of touch, this is how television programmes should approach mental health issues. I found myself close to tears at some points in the programme as intimate insights into the condition were presented and the participants spoke from their hearts about their difficulties. There were funny moments too. I wasn’t laughing at John and Greg but with them, as they both recognised the humour that accompanies some of their tics.

Reality TV is simply the wrong format to explore mental illness. We have already seen the effect it can have on vulnerable people, for example Susan Boyle’s descent into mental illness. It’s about time TV producers adopted a more measured approach to the topic, and one can only hope that more documentaries and educational programmes recieve funding and reality shows are consigned to TV’s own Room 101.

* Cesspit is probably NOT the official OED approved collective noun for paparazzi.

It’s usually one of the first things to go. I know things are going downhill when I lose my connection to it. The moment I lose interest in music, the moment I am becoming mentally ill.

It isn’t a conscious decision I take when I start to get ill, to stop listening and enjoying music. It’s more a feeling of complete apathy. My iPod sits unused on my desk, Spotify doesn’t get a look in and any music I do hear completely washes over me. It’s like your brain is jammed on a negative loop and very little breaks it. You might hear something that used to make you tap your feet or trigger a fond memory, but its effect is now deactivated, meaningless.

This always worries me. How can something which means so much to me disappear so quickly? I still don’t have the answer to that one, but I think depression is a strange and at times unquantifiable thing. Maybe it just does.

I can only listen to quiet folky stuff or classical music when I’m depressed. Anything with a quicker tempo is just too much. The music which normally really pumps me up, or gets me running to the dancefloor, I have to leave to one side. It’s best to get back to that stuff when it’s flicking my switches again.

However, the moment when the flame sparks again, when I start getting back into music, it’s bloody brilliant. I normally get back into it with feverish intensity, downloading, listening, reading it all comes back. It’s like you’ve got your ‘you’ back. The bit that’s the gas in your tank.

When I open the CD drawer, look at the tapes I have and flick through my reasonably paltry vinyl collection, a whole whirlwind of emotions, memories, sights, people and places comes over me.

There’s the Louise Louise tape. I was 12 when this came out. I guess that’s around about the age when hormones dictate your musical persuasion. The quality of the music is inconsequential; if it gives you a bit of a pubescent tingle, then you damn well buy the music. I remember watching Louise performing ‘Naked’ on Top of The Pops. I was a changed man/boy. If you’re out there Louise, look at Harry. That’s the Redknapp pedigree. That’s all I’m saying.

There’s quite a few Ministry of Sound compilations in my collection. I went through a pretty bad patch in my mid teens music wise. Listening to Dave Pearce’s Dance Anthems on Radio 1 on a Sunday night, I tried to feel some kind of allegiance with the party kids who’d spent their Saturday night in Godskitchen or Cream pilled up to the eyeballs. I, on the other hand, had been at a house party watching how quickly people could eat doughnuts and drinking a few Bacardi Breezers. Justin caught me big fish little fishing to one of Dave’s ‘anthems’ in my room once. Dear oh dear.

There are some questionable holiday puchases too. The Balkan folk compilation that sounded so fitting in a Krakow marketplace doesn’t quite cut the mustard back in rainy England. I think it’s a bit like the dodgy looking alcohol you bring back, good idea at the time but looks a bit lost when you get home.

I have lots of albums I bought on the strength of one song. Staind, The Four Tops, Chromeo and The Datsuns all fall under this unfortunate category. But each album/song evokes something. Dancing in a scuzzy indie club. Watching Peter Kay with my family. Psyching up for a trivial football match.

However, there is also plenty of music that reminds me of good times at festivals with thousands of people. There is also some music that is private to some degree, that I discovered on my own via the radio or in a record shop. There is some music I have laughed to. I have never cried at any music I own. I guess that’ll be a biggie when that happens. The nearest I have come to crying was on a recent trip to Anfield, listening to the Kop sing You’ll Never Walk Alone. I’m not a Liverpool fan, but the slow, lilting melody and the booming, rousing swell of voices is truly something to behold.

The brilliant thing about it is that I know that I’ve still got so much more to find. It’s like a never ending quest. There will be always new artists to listen to, more stories to read and more gigs to go to. How great is that? I think everybody has stuff out there that they’re a bit of a geek about. But that’s what gives everyone a story to tell. Isn’t it great to see the look in someone’s eye when they’re talking about their favourite football team, the author that changed their lives or the place that captured their heart?

What inspired me to write this entry was a moment I had a couple of days ago. I was tucked up in bed, looking out at a snow dusted Wales. I had spent most of the day downloading music videos off the Blogotheque website. The concept behind the videos is to take the artist or band out of the conventional gig venue to a live performance and into more unusual settings, from tube stations to dilapidated warehouses.

I watched these two videos on my iPod and was just blown away. This is music at its best. Rage, protest, ire, desperation, heartbreak and loss all have their place at the table. These can all be expressed proficiently through music. But music is best when expressing hope, community, love, passion and joy. So go on then, sing for your supper and dance up the bobby dazzlers you bright young things!

“I’m so blessed to have spent that time
with my family and the friends I love
with my short life I have met
So many people I deeply care for.”