“If you break a bone, you have a cast put on and people almost seem to celebrate your breakage by signing their names and drawing funny pictures. But if your mind breaks, no one seems to know how to react and many go on to sadly turn a blind eye because it is so alien to society to talk about it.

You’d never say to a cancer sufferer ‘stop moaning just get on with it’, so why do people think it is ok to use terminology like ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘cheer up, it’s only depression’.

We need so much more transparency and conversation around mental health, an acknowledgment in society that it is not a weakness, that it doesn’t make you any less of a person because you have a mental health issue. We need to end this stigma so that all of those in the community that may feel alone can reach out to anyone without fear of judgement.

This is one of my favourite quotes around mental health and fully depicts how I felt when I was at my lowest…

Most people are surprised when I tell them I suffered with severe anxiety, panic attacks and depression – as they are so used to seeing the confident, smiley, happy person I portray to the world.

It kept me up all hours of the night, controlled where I went, how I spoke and what I ate. I spent hours crying and feeling like I might never get out of the darkness… I even paid hundreds of pounds to get myself home early from a holiday abroad due to the consuming feeling of anxiety, panic and entrapment – I couldn’t cope any longer.

I went through periods where I didn’t leave the house for months unless forced to – even then my time out was short due to severe panic attacks; this made daily tasks and living a ‘normal’ life impossible. I remember my mom telling me I had to go out even if just to the local shop for some milk. I cried so much at the thought of it and even when there cried the whole way around the shop, walking at speeds close to an Olympian walker (if there ever was such a thing!) all I wanted to do was get home where I felt safe.

This all happened during my final year at university – the most important year of my education with a dissertation to complete alongside the many other modules required of me to complete. I had so far really enjoyed university and was living in a house with my best friends, socialising and going out – doing all of the ‘normal’ things students did. However, when this period of my life began, overnight it seemed, university and my life in Worcester took a major hit. I would have panic attacks driving from home to my uni home in Worcester and each time have to turn around, consumed by anxiety and fearing the worst.

I very quickly moved out of the student house and I rarely made it to lectures – I think I attended 3 over the year. I remember sitting in a lecture when this ordeal had not long began – I was hot, very clammy, my hands were shaking uncontrollably and I felt sick to my stomach. The lump in my throat was suffocating me and oxygen seemed to have been sucked from the room. I had no idea at the time that what was happening to me was a panic attack, all I knew was that I just had to get out of that room. The thought of this happening again petrified me, and had an effect on my attendance as I just wanted to avoid that feeling at all costs. My whole degree was at threat and I knew I was jeopardising my future.

My friendships and family relationships were put under significant strain and I often went days without talking to people. They didn’t understand. I was accused of having an eating disorder by many, another frustration to me as people seemed so quick to jump to conclusions. Anxiety and depression affect every part of your life, commonly your appetite. I constantly felt sick and on edge and so food was no longer something I wanted. The lump of anxiety constantly in my throat made it feel hard to eat even when I might have wanted to.

I felt like this was going to be my whole life and I would always feel this empty.

I can’t pinpoint when the turning point was for me but it happened – thanks to the support of some of those closest to me as well as a very special lady who I worked with at my part time job, it changed and I gradually started going to buy some groceries without having a panic attack, or eating a meal that was more than just a slice of toast.

Thanks to some of my closest friends and family I eventually got through that very dark patch and am here today trying to share a message of unity and hope.

It has only been in recent years that I have finally felt comfortable and strong enough to speak out about my issues in the hope that it will help others. Each year I do some campaigning around the #TimetoTalk awareness days as well as share constant messages of support and advice. There is still such a stigma around mental health and the more we speak out, the more chance there is of this changing. I believe that I would have been better understood by family, friends, employers, lecturers and even GP’s if there was more conversation around mental health.

I have gone on to achieve some amazing things that I am so proud of. I have a career in fundraising that I adore; every day I get to raise money to support vulnerable people within my community and actually make a difference. I have raised thousands for local and national charities alongside my job, and worked as a volunteer for many other causes within my community. This lead me down a new path and eventually lead to me winning the Miss Black Country title and going on to place in the top 20 at the Miss England National Finals – a journey I never thought I would undertake. This platform gave me a real voice to talk about mental health and the importance of looking after our emotional wellbeing.

For those suffering now, you aren’t alone and you CAN find ways to cope. It may seem impossible now but I guarantee that there is hope and there are so many people you can turn to for support. I never thought I would be where I am today, experiencing the opportunities that I have been lucky enough to – I am so grateful. 1 in 4 people will experience mental health issues yet we are all still too scared to speak out. It really is time to change this.