Charlotte Underwood is an author from Norfolk, England. In her first publication, ‘After Suicide’, Charlotte gives a personal account of the events surrounding her father’s suicide, and the subsequent process of grief and recovery she underwent.
Charlotte fights mental health stigma through telling her story and encouraging people who struggle, letting them know they are not alone. In the following interview, I ask Charlotte about her own experience of mental illness, and how she thinks we can provide and improve support for those suffering.
I have had anxiety and depression as long as I can remember. I had a good childhood but had a habit of seeing ‘ghosts’ and making faces in walls and shadows. I always remember feeling different to everyone else and not knowing why they do not see the world like I do.
I am learning more about mental health to better understand myself as well as why my father ended his life. Ultimately I would love to open a charity that creates a safe space for youths to learn about mental health and talk to others with mental health, like a holiday which is optional and is run by mental health survivors.
What are the most common mental health stigmas you have come across? Which ones hurt or irritate you most?
I think that people either assume you are really ‘crazy’ or you are just weak and making it up. The one that hurts me the most is ‘hypochondriac’ as I have had that my whole life as an insult for being extra cautious.
How has stigma affected you?
Stigma has caused problems in my healthcare – I cannot be ill with physical symptoms now without a doctor saying it’s anxiety. I also had a doctor ask me if I tried to end my life over a boy, basically stigma is causing severe malpractice across healthcare.
What is it like to go through mental illness?
A rollercoaster, it’s unpredictable and can make you feel like a guest in your own body or mind.
Many people feel shame in struggling with mental illness. How can we help combat those feelings of shame?
It is all about awareness and making sure that when people start experiencing mental health issues, they don’t have to go through a stage of feeling like an outcast or suffer on their own. If we teach mental health in schools, children can address the issue as it happens and get the right treatment.
How can schools teach students effectively about mental health?
Start from a young age, be relatable and use real examples.
Do you think mental health is talked about enough in the media? Do you think it is talked about effectively?
Mental health is talked about in the media but not appropriately or sensitively, they use triggers and emotions rather than explanations, they make mental health scary.
How do you go about practising self-care? How did you learn to practise self-care?
For me, self-care is saying ‘no’ when you need to, it took me being sexually abused to learn it.
Can you offer some affirmations, quotes or mantras that have helped you in difficult times?
My dad once told me that we cannot be happy all of the time, happiness can only be found in a moment. So we need to stop striving for eternal happiness and instead do more of what gives us that happy feeling.
What would you say are the best things to do for someone distressed or on the verge of a panic attack?
The best thing someone ever did for me was while I was on the floor having a panic attack, they wrapped me up in my duvet and put a pillow under my head, effective and simple.
What is something you wish people would say to you if you told them you struggle with mental illness?
That I do not have to tell them everything.
What advice might you give to someone struggling with their mental health?
That they are not alone, the Internet can help, check forums and find relatable posts and people.
Often, you hear advice telling you to “just be yourself”. Why is it so hard?
Because the problem with mental illness is that it makes it impossible to know who you actually are.