Mental Health Awareness Week 2020: Thoughts of a Time to Change Champion

May 22, 2020 at 7:45 pm

In a few weeks’ time I will have been a Time to Change Champion for six eventful years – eventful in terms of both my being a Champion and personal journey. I first got involved with mental health campaigning and volunteering as an undergraduate student at UWE Bristol following some awakening into that I – along with absolutely everyone else – have mental health that requires taking care of. As my graduation drew closer, I was looking for new ways to continue on this path of learning and influencing, and through the network of Bristol-based organisations I was introduced to Time to Change. It was the hot summer of 2014 when I volunteered at my first ever Time to Change event – the legendary St. Paul’s carnival – asking carnival goers to make pledges to help start conversations about mental health. It was not however until Bristol Pride a few weeks later that I was fully introduced to the Champions movement.

St. Paul’s Carnival in 2014 – my first ever Time to Change event, pledge and picture!


At the 2014 Bristol Pride the wonderful Keith from the central Time to Change team was the person who not only told me about the Champions movement, but also asked me to join it. Since he is wonderful he made me understand that I did not have to do anything, but that I would be more than welcome to join the Champions after my initial reaction had been ‘what do you mean I could be a Champion?! I can’t do that!’. The thought stayed with me though, and a couple of weeks later I had signed up for it – it is really simple and all done online where a huge pool of relevant materials, information and ideas are available as well – all for free and you can gain a lot by being a Champion.

Since that summer, being a Champion has enabled me to speak up about my own mental health to friends and family, and to start conversations with people I have never met, both online and offline. Maybe most importantly for me, being a Champion has been with me during some big downs during the past six years. Around World Mental Health Day in October 2015, I had just finished my masters course and was feeling empty and scared and struggling with my anxiety. With other Champions and the Bristol Hub team we held a big village event at a busy shopping centre and had almost 800 face-to-face conversations in one day! I remember feeling overwhelmed in a positive way that I had been part of achieving something like that. For Time to Talk Day 2016 when I was struggling to get onto any kind of career path I found myself back at UWE helping with another village event, this time engaging with the student community and feeling a sense of belonging again. Slightly more recently, during summer 2018 I found myself feeling lost, scared and anxious again, when I was offered a chance to take part in national networking event in London. All these times helped me feel valued, appreciated and supported whilst being surrounded by an understanding and non-judgemental community of other Champions.

Luckily being a Champion has been part of the happier times too! One of my favourite memories as a Champion is Bristol Pride in 2016 with amazing people, touching conversations, laughter and sunshine. At the time I wrote on Facebook ‘Such an amazing event packed with inspiring people, organisations and campaigns. I was really looking forward to volunteering at Pride again. Great atmosphere, great people, great cause’ – all words that could also describe what being a Champion is like.

Another strongly positive experience for me as a Champion has been the tips, information and stories I have shared in my social media channels to challenge stigma and discrimination and remind others that it is okay not to be okay. For many of my posts I have had messages back from friends across the world about how they have been touched by the same pictures, stories and experiences and helped share them further to their networks. Listening people to share their experiences and having these conversations has given me more throughout the years than I can put into words. Like the wise Little Prince said – ‘it is only with the heart that one can see rightly’ and for me it just feels right to be a Champion and part of Time to Change.


A happy LGBT+ ally at Bristol Pride in 2016


Some of the conversations I have had throughout the years have been rather passionate around the purpose and value of social movement and awareness campaigns, and would it not be more beneficial to focus all efforts on service provision. We need more mental health services, we need them to be better, more specialist, more accessible regardless of who you are, where you live and what your needs are; and we need service users to be part of every stage of the service lifecycle. This is something that the members of Independent Mental Health Network and its branches know all too well. Still, none of the work that Time to Change does is away from others and vice versa, and changing the world for me is about binging together lots of small streams of positive change. We are all needed to create a mentally healthier society and a bit of understanding and kindness goes a long way, as does campaigning for better service provision and raising awareness.

Kindness is also the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I find it is very applicable to Time to Change as a whole. My own experiences from being a Champion are definitely kind as much as they are inspiring and world changing in their own way. If I had to describe the Time to Change movement in a few words, those words would be kind, fierce, serious and important. Kind in its nature, fierce with its ambition, serious in its message and important in its existent – something I would like to be known as a person too. The good news is that at the very least I know I am important and I can be kind and two out of four is good enough; kind enough. I hope that you reading this know that you are important too!

So, after six years, what’s next for me as a Champion? All I know for sure is that my head is always filled with ideas! So far my Champion journey has taken me to talk about mental health and challenge stigma and discrimination at shopping centres, hospitals, bus and train stations, meeting rooms, various events (and not only Pride!) and of course Champions meetings. I have helped organise some big and small events and learnt a lot along the way, but who knows, maybe the next one could be my own event? I will continue my Champion journey however, by making another pledge to mark my six years as a Champion, and by being kind to myself and everyone around me.

Kata is a Time to Change Champion and a trustee of Independent Mental Health Network. More about Time to Change and becoming a Champion can be found here.

May 22, 2020 at 7:45 pm | Blog | No comment

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