Recent writing: My Mad Fat Interview With Rae Earl

7 things Rae Earl wants you to know about mental health

I recently had the opportunity to interview one of my heroes: author, feminist, and badass mental health advocate Rae Earl.

Rae’s iconic memoir My Mad Fat Diary , and the TV series it inspired (both brilliant – do check them out if you haven’t already!) have been so influential in shaping pop culture discussions around teenage life with mental illness.

Her latest book for teenagers,  was published in August. It’s an absolute bible of teenage mental health issues, covering depression, self-harm, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, drugs, alcohol, relationships, and absolutely everything a young woman might need to know about keeping her mind well.

I interviewed Rae for teen magazine Betty, and we had such a giggle together. You can read an extract below, or click to read our interview in full.

7 things Rae Earl wants you to know about mental health

Now, ten years after letting us all read her teenage diaries, Rae’s latest book is part memoir, part guide to all things mental health. It’s packed full of everything she wishes she’d known when she was your age, with medical expertise thrown in by Radio 1’s Dr Radha.

We sat down with Rae to get the lowdown on It’s All In Your Head: A Guide To Getting Your Sh*t Together, the book she describes as “a brain beanbag, to have as a reference by your bed, and flop into whenever you want”.

So what are the top seven things that she hopes you’ll take away from It’s All In Your Head?

Everything can be survived

“Basically everything can be survived, and you can get through it. Just give yourself time,” Rae says – and she’s living proof. “As a teenager I was very embarrassed about being on a psychiatric ward, and mental health issues don’t usually get better over night. Most conditions have to be managed throughout our lives, but I’ve reached this age now where I’m fine to talk about those things.”

Everyone is struggling, and you don’t have to do it alone

“Everybody thinks they’re a freak, everybody’s struggling, even the people who seem to be swimming through all cocky; everybody’s having a crisis. Nobody’s perfect or got it all together. I was going to say it’s that age, but actually it’s just life – I’m 46 and I’m still winging it!” Rae laughs. “When I was at school, we never had that conversation. But if we’d had that chat, that feeling of intense alienation and loneliness could have been alleviated,” she adds.

“I think if I’d felt able to have those chats with my friends, I would have felt far less lonely, and far more able to make change, because I wouldn’t have felt so disabled by the fact I was on my own. I denied myself so much, and absolutely invalidated myself from life – it was all such a waste. Having that chat would have been so important to me, I think I would have said yes to a lot more.”

Be careful about over-sharing online

“It’s a cliché, but the biggest thing that’s changed since I was a teenager is social media,” Rae says. “If I imagine putting social media into my life at that point, I don’t think I would have managed that well at all. I would have over-shared and that would have left me vulnerable. I think it would have exacerbated my problems with my body more. But then, on the flip side, perhaps seeing other people share their experiences would have helped me accept it,” she adds.

“My diary was private, it was a place to vent everything I felt in a perfectly safe space – so I think I had more freedom to make enormous mistakes without it going viral. Now we share so much, but you do still need to have somewhere private and safe.”

Continue reading at Betty…

Recent writing: Egg freezing, and periods on the pill

A couple more sexual/reproductive health pieces from last month. My latest for Grazia Daily looked at everything you need to know about egg freezing – from the cost and success rates, to the risks involved. September also saw my first three commissions for online teen girls’ mag betty.me, including an article on everything you need to know about how going on the pill affects your periods.

What Is Egg Freezing? – for Grazia Daily:

Egg freezing, or cryopreservation, is a fertility treatment used to collect, preserve and store a woman’s eggs, so they can be used to make a baby later on in her life. It was originally developed for women with certain medical conditions, or who are undergoing particular treatments (such as chemotherapy), which can damage your natural fertility. By freezing their eggs before treatment, patients have the opportunity to try for a family once they’ve fully recovered from their condition.

These days, ‘elective’ or ‘social’ egg freezing is also increasingly used for lifestyle reasons, if a woman isn’t ready to have children straight away but wants to keep her fertility options open for the future. Fertility naturally begins to decline around the age of 35, so having your eggs frozen while you’re young means they’re better quality and could help prolong your fertility if you plan on starting your family at a slightly older age.

6 things you need to know about periods on the pill – for Betty:

Gone on the pill because your skin is playing up, or your periods are reaaaaally heavy? It can be a bit of a lifesaver, tbh. But if you’ve still got a load of questions about how it affects your body, or what happens to your monthly flow when you’re taking it, look no further. Here’s everything you NTK…

The pill stops you ovulating

The most common way the pill works is by stopping your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation). You’ll probably remember from biology that periods happen each month if an egg is released but not fertilised, so when the pill stops your ovaries from releasing an egg each month, it technically means you don’t get periods at all.

There’s usually still a bleed though (sorry!)

Even though you don’t get a real period, you’ll still experience monthly bleeding that’s similar to having your period.

Continue reading at Betty…

World Mental Health Day: Perfectionism, financial anxiety, and what it’s really like to be sectioned

Today, 10 October, is World Mental Health Day. This year’s WMHD has a theme of workplace wellbeing, and also sees the launch of Natasha Devon’s latest campaign, The Mental Health Media Charter, which I’m proud to support.

Here are a few of my recent articles on mental health – exploring perfectionism, the anxieties around financial uncertainty, and what it’s really like to be sectioned…

Following on from my MHT article on the Mental Health Act, in September I wrote for NetDoctor about what it’s really like to be sectioned as a psychiatric patient under the Act. Many thanks to Andrea, Kate and Alika for speaking to me so candidly about their experiences, and to Rethink Mental Illness for connecting us.

For The Debrief, I wrote about a recent study into perfectionism as a risk factor for suicide. Perfectionism is particularly associated with young, high achieving women, so I looked into the impact it can have on mental health – from anxiety and depression to eating disorders and OCD. Thank you to self-confessed perfectionists Lizzie and Sam (not her real name) for chatting to me, and to psychologist Dr Nihara Krause, who shared her expertise in clinical perfectionism.

Finally, I wrote for Nationwide Building Society about the links between money trouble and mental health problems, and what customers can do to tackle financial anxiety.

This is what it’s really like to be sectioned – for NetDoctor:

Mental Health Act

Mental health is on the agenda more than ever before. While there’s still plenty of work to be done, many of us now feel increasingly comfortable talking about common issues like mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and their impact on our everyday lives. But more complex and severe mental health conditions remain heavily stigmatised, particularly when they involve patients being detained and forcibly treated under the Mental Health Act – known as sectioning.

47-year-old Canadian Andrea has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and has been sectioned several times since moving to the UK when she was 23. The first time, she recalls: “I had been given antidepressants, ignoring the fact that a proportion of us with bipolar cannot take antidepressants. I became psychotic within 48 hours.”

Continue reading at NetDoctor…

Is Your Perfectionism Affecting Your Mental Health? – for The Debrief:

‘Perfectionism affects every aspect of my life in some way or another. I have to be perfect in every way, shape or form,’ says 23-year-old Sam*. ‘I set very high standards for myself, and if I don’t reach them – which 99 percent of the time I don’t because they’re impossible – I then attack and belittle myself over it.’

Sound familiar? Perfectionism can affect anyone, but it’s particularly associated with young, high-achieving women – whether it’s a constant need to look flawless, or staying hours late at the office to tinker with that one piece of work that’s not quite spot-on.

We might think of it as a fairly harmless personality quirk – just ‘being a bit anal’ – but perfectionism can actually have a pretty sinister impact on your long-term mental health. The Journal of Personality recently published the most comprehensive study of its kind into perfectionism as a risk factor for suicide, concluding that ‘self-generated and socially based pressures to be perfect’ make people more susceptible to suicidal thoughts.

How to cope with financial anxiety – for Nationwide Building Society:

For a long time, mental health has been associated with serious, long-term mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But we all have mental health, and it’s affected constantly by the pleasures and stresses of everyday life, from money and work, to family and relationships.

Financial uncertainty – whether it’s the threat of redundancy, or an out of control debt – can take a huge toll on your mental health, leading to common issues like stress, depression and anxiety.

The impact of this can be huge, not only on your personal and family life, but also on your career. Work-related stress accounts for 45% of all working days lost to illness (This link will open in a new window) in the UK – and struggling at work is a sure-fire way to sink into the vicious cycle of financial anxiety.

But there are simple, practical steps you can take to cope with financial anxiety and regain a sense of control.

Continue reading at Nationwide…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: Pay rises, travel visas, and women’s jobs in the Army

In August and September I worked on a project with Closer magazine’s online team, sponsored by the Army, exploring the experiences of four women with jobs in the forces. Opportunities to travel and the lack of a gender pay gap stood out as big career perks for all the women I spoke to, as well as an impressive range of sports and adventure training.

Sticking with the themes of jobs and travelling, I also wrote a couple of ‘how to’ pieces for The Debrief – one looking at how to get a visa for various popular travel destinations, and the other asking: ‘how the hell do you negotiate a payrise?’

Ask An Adult: How The Hell Do I Ask For A Payrise? – for The Debrief:

Talking about salaries is an absolute minefield – whether it’s sussing out if the guys in your office are earning more than you and your female colleagues, or trying to plan a holiday with friends who are all on totally different incomes. And when it comes to negotiating a pay rise, many of us feel completely clueless about the etiquette. Is there a right or wrong time to ask? How do you even start that conversation? And how the hell do you persuade your boss to say yes?

Young women in particular typically lack confidence when it comes to this kind of negotiation – and the odds may even be stacked against us. Research published last year found that while men and women are equally likely to ask for a pay rise, women are less likely to be successful than their male peers. So just what is making it so difficult for us to get what we’re worth at work?

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Everything You Need To Know About Getting A Visa – for The Debrief:

If you’re anything like me, the absolute best bit about travelling outside of Europe is collecting passport stamps from each new country you visit. Sadly though, the flip side of that is remembering to check entry requirements and sort out visas before you fly – and who hasn’t had that last minute, ‘shit, visa!’ panic three hours before leaving for the airport? To make sure you’re organised and prepared well in advance of your travels, here’s our guide to getting a visa for some of the most popular holiday destinations.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Being a woman in the Army – for Closer online (sponsored by the Army):

Being a woman in the Army: From joining the Reserves to travelling the world

Just finished school and don’t fancy uni? Well a job in the ARMY could be for you! Here’s why…

Being a woman in the Army: 10 years of adventure and opportunity

Being a woman in the Army: Raising a young family


Recent writing: the London floristry project helping refugee women

Bread and Roses: supporting refugee women

I’ve had lots of work published in September, including writing on sexual health, mental health, work, and lots more. But I wanted to share this article separately, as it’s one I’m especially proud of. After writing for The Guardian about my godson and his refugee mother back in July, I went on to write a feature for them about an incredible project, Bread and Roses, which I also discovered through my work with Women for Refugee Women (WRW).

Bread and Roses is a social enterprise that teaches refugee women floristry and employability skills, helping to boost their confidence and get them back into work. I’ve seen firsthand the difference it’s made to the lives of women from WRW’s network, so it was a real privilege to chat to them and some of their newly trained florists. There’s a snippet below, and you can read the article in full at The Guardian.

One of Bread and Roses' refugee florists

I’ve never had the chance to build a career. I was a student when my traffickers brought me here and then, as an asylum seeker, I wasn’t allowed to work,” explains 37-year-old Monica from Ghana. “Now I’ve got leave to remain, I’ve felt anxious about throwing myself straight into full-time employment,” she adds.

It’s a challenge facing many refugees in the UK who, regardless of their professional backgrounds, often find themselves up against language barriers, loss of confidence, CV gaps, and a lack of UK work experience.

But one all-female social enterprise is aiming to overcome all that, providing refugee women with the practical and emotional skills to blossom in the workplace. Hackney-based Bread and Roses offers a seven-week floristry programme, teaching trainees how to create everything from floral bouquets to Christmas wreaths.

It is inspired by the principle of Rose Schneiderman’s 1912 feminist speech of the same name, which argued that low-paid women need more than just practical necessities to survive, but also dignity, respect and the opportunity to flourish.

For women such as Monica, its benefits go far beyond the practical skills: “I loved working with the plants, particularly calming lavender and stimulating eucalyptus. But I also learned social skills like networking, working as a team and not being afraid to ask for help,” she says.

“I was already interested in floristry, but I’ve never been green-fingered so I didn’t think I’d have the skills. Building my knowledge, and being prepared to make mistakes and learn from them, has made me realise that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and have the right support network around you,” she adds.

Continue reading at The Guardian…

Recent writing: Womb cancer, sexual health, and anxiety during pregnancy

It’s been a busy month for my two favourite (and frequently overlapping) subjects, mental health and sexual health. September is Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, but it’s also packed full of other great awareness weeks. Most notably for me, Pre and Post Natal Depression Awareness Week (PNDAW) fell from 4th-10th, and this year focused on antenatal mental health, while Sexual Health Week ran from 11th-17th.

So, I’ve been writing lots about vaginas, wombs, hormones, fertility, periods, pregnancy, abortion, and mental health – from antenatal anxiety to womb cancer, and why straight men find it so difficult to talk about their partners’ vaginas.

Over Half Of Men Are Uncomfortable Talking About Their Partners’ Vagina – for Broadly:

Straight couples are uncomfortable talking about sexual health

hen was the last time you and your boyfriend talked about sexual health? Can he say “vagina” out loud without giggling? And would you trust him to notice if something was wrong down there? Unless you do lot of yoga, most of us physically can’t get a good look at our own vulvas all that often. So you’d hope that our sexual partners are at least keeping an eye on things.

However, despite their ideal vantage point, only one in five men feels confident enough to mention a change in their partner’s vagina, and more than half of them aren’t comfortable discussing gynecological health at all. That’s according to a survey of 2,000 people, published by UK gynecological cancer charity The Eve Appeal.

Continue reading at Broadly…

What it’s like to have anxiety when you’re pregnant – for NetDoctor:

Antenatal anxiety is often overlooked when it comes to perinatal mental health

“I had such mixed feelings when I found out I was pregnant – lots of emotions and excitement, but then also this feeling that my life was over, as awful as that sounds,” says 25-year-old Jade, who was 23 when she had her son. “I was about five months pregnant when the anxiety really hit me. I’d been having panic attacks, struggling to leave the house, and then one day I just broke down. It was completely overwhelming.”

Antenatal anxiety affects around 13 per cent of pregnant women, while 12 per cent suffer from antenatal depression, and many experience both. Like at any other time in your life, some amount of anxiety and worry is totally normal and understandable during pregnancy, but it becomes a problem when that anxiety begins to affect your everyday life.

Continue reading at NetDoctor, or continue reading at Cosmo UK…

What It’s Like To Lose Your Fertility To Uterine Cancer In Your 20s – for Broadly:

Lydia would often bleed through her clothes

Lydia Brain has had heavy periods since she was a teenager. In her early 20s, they got so heavy that she would regularly bleed through her clothes in public—but Lydia never imagined it was a sign of endometrial cancer.

“I can’t remember ever not having to use a tampon and a sanitary towel. For years my periods got heavier and heavier,” Lydia says. “Sometimes I’d get stuck on the toilet for hours. I couldn’t go on holiday or out for a day if I was on my period, because I had to make sure I could always get to a toilet.”

Continue reading at Broadly…

What Happens to Your Body in the Hours and Days After an Abortion – for Vice UK:

One in three women in Britain will have an abortion at some point in their lives, but if it hasn’t happened to you, you might not know much about the actual process. Outdated horror stories involving iron forceps still loom large in the public consciousness, when the majority of abortions today begin with taking a pill.

There are two main types of abortion: medical (using pills to induce a miscarriage) and surgical (where the pregnancy is removed during a minor operation). Exactly what happens and how long it takes varies from woman to woman, and, obviously, depends on how far into the pregnancy you are. But if you’re going for a medical abortion, here’s a rough idea of what you can expect to happen during the 72 hours afterwards.

Continue reading at Vice… 

Recent writing: Mental health support, boozy break-ups, and PMS that makes women suicidal

It’s been a while since my last work update – August has been as busy as always, with work including my first health feature for The i Newspaper, and a native content collaboration with Closer and the British Army, which I’ll share more about in an upcoming blog post. I was also delighted, earlier in the month, to attend the launch party of The Femedic – an exciting new educational website from Curated Digital that’s dedicated to tackling taboos around women’s health.

August’s work highlight was chatting with Laura Murphy, founder of the Vicious Cycle: Making PMDD Visible campaign, about medical sexism and her experiences of severe PMS. It’s such a glaring example of where science and medicine fall short on women’s health, and Laura’s doing an amazing job of raising awareness while also tackling the condition herself. I’ve also written about supporting a loved one with mental health problems, and the impact of booze on getting over heartbreak.

My PMS is so bad I’m having my womb removed – for i News:

I’ve suffered from hormone sensitivity since I was a teenager. For years I would go to the doctor and receive the same response: ‘it’s just PMS, it’s what all women go through’.

After 20 years of being dismissed and going through a process of trial and error with treatments, I’m now waiting to undergo my last resort: a hysterectomy.

At its worst, PMDD feels like a deep bereavement every month. I would be fine for two weeks and then suddenly floored by depression for five or six days before each period.

Continue reading at The i News…

How Much Do Drink And Drugs Stop Us Getting Over A Break-Up? – for The Debrief:

‘Most nights would end with me in tears after a few too many shots of tequila,’ says 27-year-old Babs. She is, of course, talking about a breakup.

And no matter how amicable the intentions of a breakup, they’re always pretty messy. Whether it’s untangling yourself from shared flat rentals and bills, letting go of their friends and family, or even just returning the old T-shirt of theirs you’ve been sleeping in since the second date. There are stereotypical ways to handle these things – the ice cream, the sobbing, the days in a dressing gown – and there’s advice, but so little of it can seem to help.

‘When you’re young, emotions in relationships run very high. Developing a relationship is not just about having fun together, but also about forming your own identity in relation to the other person,’ explains Marc Hekster, consultant psychologist at Insight London. So, when a relationship ends – particularly if it’s been really intense – it can feel like you’re losing a part of yourself,’

Continue reading at The Debrief…

How to support a friend or partner with a mental health problem – for NetDoctor:

At least one in four of us will struggle with our mental health at some point in our lives – so why are we still so bad at talking about it? Mental health stigma has come on a long way in recent years, but when faced with a friend or partner who’s struggling, many of us still feel uncomfortable, or panic about saying the wrong thing.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re concerned about someone important in your life, here are six ways you can help them seek the support they need.

Continue reading at NetDoctor…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: A moment that changed me

In July I wrote for The Guardian about two very special people in my life. I made so many wonderful friendships during my time at Women for Refugee Women, but this one has definitely had the most impact on me as a person.

A moment that changed me: becoming godmother to a refugee’s baby – for The Guardian

“Here, go to Auntie Sarah,” Lucy said, as she thrust her four-month-old baby into my arms – not leaving me any time to panic or protest. I’ve never felt particularly maternal. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to have kids of my own, and other people’s babies make me nervous. Like sharks, they can usually sense my fear, and scream for their mother as soon as they come into contact with me. But with Tom it was different. Neither of us cried or screamed in terror; instead, I looked down at this little boy and fell head over heels in love.

It was March 2016 and I was six months into my communications role at Women for Refugee Women (WRW), which I left earlier this year. I’d travelled 100 miles to interview a case study as part of our research on the detention of pregnant asylum seekers in Yarl’s Wood. But Lucy was already so much more than just a case study – and I knew from that moment that “Auntie Sarah” was a job for life.

Tom and I were sitting on the bed in Lucy’s dark, cramped asylum accommodation, while she microwaved the lunch I’d bought for the two of us. It was only the second time I’d ever met him in the flesh, but I’d never before felt so invested in someone’s future.

I had first met Lucy the previous October, when she was eight months pregnant and homeless. After coming to the UK from Ghana to seek asylum, she’d been detained in Yarl’s Wood for a month, before being released with nowhere to go, and left to rely on the kindness of strangers for the remaining three months of her pregnancy.

 

Continue reading at The Guardian…

Recent writing: struggling nurses, and Mental Health Act reform

Health and social care in crisis

I’ve written a couple of pieces in July that really highlighted for me the scale of the crisis currently facing our health and social care services. After news broke that there are now more nurses and midwives leaving the profession than joining, I spoke to some young women who are really feeling the pinch at the frontline of our health service.

When I think of the nurses who washed me, fed me, and sympathised with my hysterical late night sobbing back in January, I know I could never, ever do what they do. It’s heartbreaking to think that so many of them are valiantly working thankless 13 hour shifts, but still having to depend on extra jobs, and even food banks, to get by. Thank you and huge respect to all the nurses who spoke to me so candidly about their experiences – you are amazing.

Thanks also to the Approved Mental Health Practitioners (AMHPs) who spoke to me, for Mental Health Today, about the legislative and financial pressure they’re under when it comes to implementing the 1983 Mental Health Act. There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the need for a wide ranging review and reform of the Act – but social workers and AMHPs told me that no amount of tinkering with the law will help unless the government also provides the funding and resources to ensure mental health patients get the help and support they need.

Meet The Young Nurses Who Need A Side Hustle Just To Pay Their Bills – for The Debrief:

‘I worked as a paediatric specialist nurse in a children’s hospice, but after having children of my own, I simply couldn’t afford to support my family on a nursing salary,’ says 27-year-old Naomi. ‘I now run a Botox and filler clinic, earning almost ten times as much each year. ‘

Naomi is one of thousands of nurses to have left the NHS in recent years, according to worrying figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which show there are now more nurses and midwives quitting than joining the profession. And she’s certainly not alone in feeling the pinch.

‘We really do live on the edge of comfort when it comes to money. I’ve noticed a lot of nurses take on little things on the side, like selling beauty products,’ says 22-year-old Hannah*, who’s been a nurse for just over a year.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

The 1983 Mental Health Act: what needs to change? – for Mental Health Today

Mental Health Act

In May this year the prime minister made a pre-election pledge to revolutionise mental healthcare. What has happened since? What’s going wrong, and what needs to change?

Promising to rip up the 1983 Mental Health Act, Theresa May said she would: “introduce in its place a new law which finally confronts the discrimination and unnecessary detention that takes place too often.”

Detentions under the Mental Health Act have increased 47% over the last decade, and BME patients – particularly young, black men – are disproportionately detained under the Act.

There’s a fairly broad consensus across the mental health sector that the system isn’t working as it should. But the issue of just what to do about the Mental Health Act is more complex – and many professionals were angered by Mrs May’s comments.

Continue reading at Mental Health Today…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.