Resident writer Gemma caught up with BBC’s Mim Shaikh to chat about his new video ‘Coming Out’. Touching on some important subjects in the world of mental health, they discuss loss, life and encouraging young people to talk openly about their mental health.
Thank you. I enjoyed putting it together. 6 months ago, I lost my Grandmother and my centre of gravity was shifted for the first time in my 25 years on this planet. I found myself behaving differently, thinking in ways I never did before. Questioning myself more, not having any confidence in what I do and I just felt the best thing I could do is just to give up. Then I started to look back at everything I had achieved and started being more grateful for things in my life, in work, to relationships with family and friends. I wrote a spoken word piece before releasing this one called ‘No Father’s Day’ which allowed me to reflect on what it was like growing up without knowing who your Father is. The feedback from the video, inspired me to not run away from the hard times in my life but to actually embrace them harder than the successes. I thought I could make another video which would help people who may be coming to terms with their mental health. The main message was to just show that we are all coming to terms with our mental health, the word mental just has such a negative connotation but it’s just the same way of us coming to terms with our physical health. So if were training at the gym, and working out regularly, what are we doing for our minds? So I got together with a good friend of mine, and we co-wrote the piece: ‘Coming Out’.
That was one of the motivations to even make the video, as a vehicle for young people to watch and feel like it’s fine to openly talk about their mental health. I’m impressed at the fact that there a range of different and a variety of charities that focus on mental health issues such as Rethink, Mind and Sane etc. However, something that I find peculiar is, why we were never taught about the implications of mental health in School. This should be something they should start introducing. A head teacher who works in a primary school saw the video and she got in touch to say that it’s scary how so many young people are suffering with anxiety and if there’s anything she can do, she would love to help. I think we should introduce mental health education in schools, we should implement more learning in lessons like PSHE. We learn about photosynthesis in biology, but we never get taught what anxiety is!? Something that affects our mind on a constant basis. It doesn’t make any sense to me!
The idea behind Coming Out was that we would write it from the point of view of a character who is coming to terms with their mental health. So although, it has been inspired by some real events in my life, it’s not 100% just about me coming to terms. I was tripping out, thinking there might be something wrong with me, and after doing research into mental health, and attending a few therapy sessions I learnt it was all made up in my own mind. I think making the video has definitely helped, and even surprised people to think that an individual who we might have thought has a lot of stuff going well for him, can still be depressed, or suffer from anxiety and depression? In that respect, it was pivotal.
I’ve always regarded myself as someone who has the highest self-esteem uber confident and can do anything that is ever asked. However, I noticed the change when my Grandmother passed away and started doubting myself way more than I had ever done. Since the video has come out, and more importantly since coming back from my trip in Ghana – where I was volunteering and teaching young kids in the primary schools out there, I have felt the biggest sense of gratitude and calmness surrounding my thoughts. Evolution is inevitable, I just keep praying it’s evolution in the right direction.
My Mother has had a history of mental health issues, she suffered from depression, panic attacks and even experienced psychosis. Even though she has been through her fair share of conditions, I have never communicated with her how I’m feeling or with any family member on that level. It can be such a private issue. I don’t have depression, I was just having a really bad day, my auntie asked me one evening are you still feeling depressed? I responded in such a rapid way by saying, no I’m not depressed, and even if I was that’s not the best way to communicate that to someone. Bless her, she meant no harm and was just asking if I was ok in her own way. But I took that in a different way, given what was happening in my mind at the time. Within South-Asian communities there is still such a taboo when talking about mental health, it’s never been the norm, a lot of people don’t really know what it means and would probably try to ignore and deflect anything that gets down to the real crux of their feelings. We’ve got a long way to go before it is the norm for families to sit round the table eating Daal and Roti whilst discussing what they might be going through in their minds, and being really in touch with all their feelings.
Working for the BBC is pretty cool, have you received any feedback from those you work with/for about the video? A few colleagues of mine shared the video, and one person in particular told me on the evening of my radio show that when he shared the video on his Facebook page, a friend got in touch with him and for the first time she openly admitted that she’d been suffering from anxiety and depression and she hadn’t told anyone before. I think that’s the biggest compliment anyone can give, that a video of mine led to an action which brought two human beings even more together than they were before.
It’s definitely a ‘thing’ for men to show themselves as hardened individuals and not appear emotional. Did that make it harder for you and what advice would you give to other male sufferers afraid to open up? I think that’s the way society has conditioned us. But who says that is the norm? The rest of people. We don’t have to let that be the case. I’m a man, I’m strong, I do everything by myself, for my family and the people I care about. But at the same time, I’m really in touch with my vulnerability, I have no shame about it because we’re all human at the end of the day. I saw a Man telling his son not to cry the other day, and I understood that because the Dad probably just wants his Son to be quiet, but part of me was like let the kid cry, let him get it all out, let him honour his feelings. This is what I’ve started doing and it’s worked wonders for me. To other Males I would say, drop the ego, drop the societal stereotypes that have been put on Men across the world and just be whoever you want to be, don’t worry about being judged, who cares what people think about you. If you’re down, you’re down, when you’re up, you’re up! It’s like the sky, it’s constantly blue right? But dark clouds come, rain comes, thunder comes, hailstones come and then they all pass and we have the blue skies for the majority of the day. For me that’s like our thoughts, the negative ones come and go but the positive ones are constant and they stay for as long as we ever want them to.
Do you have any future plans or ideas to influence mental health awareness? This video was literally created just to get some feedback so we can gage how we want the final, polished version to come out. We’re currently working on a 8-minute version of ‘Coming Out’ – which looks at different angles of the mental health spectrum and actually paints together a short story about the character coming to terms with their condition. I just hosted a discussion on my BBC Asian Network radio show (Thursdays 9pm-12am) asking whether it was right for Drake to diss Kid Cudi’s mental health. As well as that, I’ll be working closely with Rethink in the foreseeable future and possibly be collaborating on some projects.