"Mental Illness Only Has Power If You Don't Talk About It" | A Q&A With 'Mad Girl' Podcaster Bryony Gordon

15 May 2018

Bryony Gordon is the author of the book ‘Mad Girl’, the founder of Mental Health Mates, and a columnist at the Telegraph. She also spoke at our recent Knowledge Guild event, which focused on mental health and well-being in the workplace.

We talked to her beforehand to find out what inspired her to open up this important conversation, what it was like to interview Prince Harry on her podcast, and what more needs to be done by the government and organisations to break down the stigma around mental illness.

Hi Bryony. You’re an advocate of speaking about mental health. What inspired you to first speak about this topic?

What inspired me to talk about the subject of mental health was my own mental health. I spent many years not talking about it, and it got to the stage where it was such a huge thing inside me that I had to talk about it to get it out of me.

Mental illness has power over you as long as you don’t tell anybody about it. It lies to you: it tells you that you’re a freak; it tells you that you’re alone; it tells you that no one is going to understand what you’re going through – and that’s a lie. The moment I spoke about it, it was like putting your head above the parapet, and suddenly everyone came to me and started talking about their own mental health.

"I want to bang home this message as much as possible: the really weird people are the people who feel normal all the time."

You’re making waves by breaking down the stigma around mental health – but what more do you think needs to be done?

I think that people like me can stand up and shout about mental health issues all we want – but I hope that by doing that, the government and people in positions of power will listen and realise that a lot more funding needs to be put into mental health issues.

It’s a no brainer to invest in mental health. A healthy country is a happy country, and vice versa. You get more from your employees if they're healthy. I think obesity to some extent is a mental health issue, as is drug addiction and alcoholism. Our prisons are full people who had mental health issues as children that never got addressed. What we need to do is to increase funding and resources.

Your podcast Mad Girl kicked off with Prince Harry – how was this experience?

What was amazing about interviewing Prince Harry is that he opened up so fully and seemed so normal. I really felt like I was sitting through a moment in history in a way as a senior royal talked about his own mental illness. To be a small part of that felt incredible - it felt like I was taking a negative and turning it into a positive.

"Let your employees know that their mental wellbeing will be taken as seriously as a broken leg"

We’ve interviewed many people for the podcast since then – including nurses, pop stars, academics, philanthropists, children, and more. What I learned is that every time you speak to someone with a mental health issue, you feel less alone - and when you speak about it in a normal way, it helps other people.

If you don’t have the words to talk about your mental health, it has power over you - so it’s about getting the conversation started.

Bryony interviewed Prince Harry on her podcast 'Mad Girl' where he openly talks about his mental health issues

I think people from the top to the bottom need to start talking about mental health. If you happen to be a manager who's experienced depression or anxiety, talk about it - normalise it. Some of the most brilliant people have mental illness. You shouldn’t be scared of it. Don’t think that this person is going to suddenly lose productivity because of it. They will if they don’t get any help, but if they do get that help, you can make a virtue of it.

Talking really is the key. Letting somebody know that having depression or OCD or some other form of mental illness will be taken as seriously as if they had broken their leg.

Thanks Bryony. And finally, what are your personal techniques for finding headspace?

Running. I love running. That’s been a great discovery – moving, getting out of bed, cutting out alcohol, eating well. Also, a really key thing I think is being kind to yourself. Think to yourself – would I take this from another person? No, you probably wouldn’t… so be kind to yourself – that’s where it all starts!

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