For this Talking FreELY Tuesday (TFT) we’re talking about our first event for young people, in partnership with Ely College and Bishop Laney Sixth form. The morning session featured a pop-up cafe with students trained as ‘talking volunteers’ and different zones for the sixth form students to explore, such as art therapy, the effects of lack of sleep on mental health and mental health in sports.
The highlight of the event, however, was meeting Mia.
16-year-old Mia was introduced to Talking FreELY by the Hertfordshire Inclusion and Engagement team. She agreed to come along and share her story about her own mental health journey with the sixth form students, a group her own age, to inspire them to talk openly about their own mental health.
‘People are always shocked when I tell them my story’ she told us. She was right. When you meet Mia, it’s impossible not to be impressed. She’s bubbly, intelligent and confident and it’s hard to imagine her as anything else.
Mia started to struggle with her mental health aged 10 but didn’t have the words to describe it. She would suddenly become angry and hit out. It escalated as she got older and she began self-harming. She counts herself as lucky to have such a supportive family and this, combined with a history of mental illness in the family, prompted them to be persistent in seeking help from doctors.
It wasn’t easy though. ‘Because I present as ‘normal’ most of the time, my mum and I really had to push for any help.’ Mia said. She recalled one doctor telling her that all teens go through this. Her response: ‘If this is what all teens go through, no one would make it to adulthood.’
This time last year, just after she turned 16, there was a defining moment in her journey which led to her getting the help she knew she needed.
‘I was in my maths class as normal, then I blacked out. When I came round I was in a police car sitting next to an officer. I had handcuffs on and could feel tears on my cheeks. I said hello to the officer and he asked if I was Mia. I asked him who he had arrested because it wasn’t me. I found out later that I had wrecked the classroom and locked a teacher in a cupboard. I have no memory of this. It took five police officers to subdue me and I managed to get out of the handcuffs three times.’ Mia was charged with false imprisonment and criminal damage.
This incident led to her exclusion from school and to her spending sixth months as a day patient in a psychiatric unit. She talks about her time in the unit fondly ‘It was where I needed to be at the time’. She was keen to point out that psychiatric units are not like you see on TV shows. ‘It’s not all padded cell, straight jackets and people rocking in the corner.’ She had some really good times there and crucially began the journey of managing her mental health. Both Mia and her Mum felt relieved at having finally found a doctor who was taking things seriously.
Mia even took her GCSE exams in the unit and modestly tells us she did ok. Her mum tells us later that actually, she received all As and A*s with one B. Better than ok we think!
One thing that she remembers distinctly from her time on the unit, apart from a high number of suicide jokes, was the low number of male patients. ‘More females than males attempt suicide but more males succeed.’ she told us. She would like to see more males stepping forward and seeking the help they need. ‘I find it really upsetting because I’ve talked to people and I know they need help, but they don’t get it. If they had talked about their problems sooner, maybe they wouldn’t be in this serious situation’
‘When you have mental health issues you often become secretive and not yourself. Look out for your friends. Remember, you are not responsible for them but just ask them how they are’ she told the group.
Mia has Borderline Personality Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder. She described this as being herself most of the time, then ‘hulking out’ on occasion. She explained what she meant by ‘hulking out’ as being a bit like the incredible hulk. She blacks out and an alternate personality – or ‘alter’ as she calls them – comes to the forefront. She gets stronger, often angry and a completely different person.
It’s almost a year since her admission to the unit and her arrest and she talked about some of the things she does now to help manage her mental health. Climbing, or bouldering, is a firm favourite: it helps to keep her in the moment and focus. She also enjoys art therapy. She has a dog called Chester, who is a trained emotional support dog and as Mia says, is ‘actually the best dog in the world!’
Mia is following her dreams of becoming a Vet and is now studying Biology, Chemistry and Psychology A levels at sixth form.
Her parting words for her peers: ‘Keep talking and don’t be ashamed’.
Thank you for sharing your story with us Mia.