Talking about Mental health has long been a taboo subject in society despite one in four people being affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. However, in the past few years growing discussions and campaigns to raise awareness of mental health is helping to break down barriers and end the stigma.
Festivals like the Mental Wealth festival, held annually in London, is part of this growing conversation. This year the festival is being held over two days in September (Monday 10thand Tuesday 11th) and includes workshops, debates and discussions covering a multitude of topics including suicide prevention and anxiety.
The first day (Monday 10th) is based at City Lit, one of the organisers of the event in Covent Garden where the focus will be on mental health and the workplace. The second day (Tuesday 11th) will be held at the National Gallery were focus will be on mental health at home and within communities.
The festival, like previous years, will feature speakers who will be part of the debates as well as hold sessions. One of the speakers, Hope Virgo has spoken to Kettlemag about what the festival means to her and how she got involved.
Hope Virgo is the author of Stand Tall, Little Girl and is a leading spokesperson on eating disorders having appeared on various shows including BBC Newsnight, Good Morning Britain, Sky News and BBC News. She also helps employers including schools, hospitals and businesses after suffering with anorexia when she was 13.
Tell us a little bit more about yourself…
I developed anorexia when I was 13 years old and it became a huge part of my identity. It gave me this purpose that I so longed for in life. It made me feel this sense of value and purpose that I so desperately longed for. It helped make everything okay when I was struggling with my emotions. I learnt to rely fully on my anorexia hiding it from everyone around me. I hid my anorexia for four years becoming ever more devious, managing to find new ways to hide it. I wasn’t happy anymore but I knew that what anorexia gave me, no one else could. I needed her fully in my life and wanted her all the time. But what I didn’t know was I was slowly dying. My heart was slowing down and within just a few months after joining CAMHs. I was devastated when my family found out about my friendship with anorexia and I couldn’t quite understand why they were why they were so desperate to take this anorexia voice away from me. I didn’t know why they wanted to take this voice away that gave me just what I needed.
After those four years of hiding my anorexia forever my life changed forever. I was admitted to a mental health hospital where I spent a year of my life. It was the hardest of year of my life but it well and truly saved my life. It gave me the time I needed to get back on track, and something to kickstart me to make me realise something was the matter.
What’s your session at the Mental Wealth Festival about?
At the Mental Wealth Festival I will be talking about anorexia but focussing more on parenting. It is so hard for parents when their children or people they care for start to develop a mental illness. My session will cover top tips on coping with this but also how to spot the signs so that you feel able to open those conversations.
What message would you like to share with your session / what do you hope people will take away?
Recovery is not easy and it will be hard work but it is one hundred percent worth it!
Why did you want to get involved in the Mental Wealth Festival?
When I heard about the Mental Wealth Festival I was so excited. It is amazing having a whole festival focussed on mental health. It is brilliant to be part of such an exciting festival keeping these conversations moving forward. I also love being given a platform to share my story of recovery and to help others know what to do.
How do you think the festival will help in raising awareness of mental health?
It will keep the conversation going. It will give people a safe space to open up and give them somewhere to talk openly and seek advice and help.
Hope Virgo will be doing a session on Tuesday 11thSeptember at the National Gallery. Tickets for her session and other events are on sale now at https://www.mentalwealthfestival.co.uk/