By Layla Maguire
Despite the developments with the COVID-19 vaccination, there is no cure for the mental distress that the pandemic has caused millions of people across the globe. The effects of the pandemic have caused a larger demand for mental health services, of which there are not enough. Services are currently having to direct those in need to a waiting list and many people are still unaware of where to go for support.
This has encouraged young people in Scotland to take it upon themselves to make a change in normalising the discussion of mental health through the rising power of social media, and to create a supporting community which they wish they had in their time of need.
The founder of clothing brand Checkmate Socks, 26-year-old Ross Gilmour, started his brand in 2018 in a bid to encourage the conversation of mental health, after being affected by people suffering around him.
He said: “From the area where I was at school I always remember, a couple of years above me someone committed suicide. The effect it had on his sister who was a year below me at school, and everyone in general, the area was really badly affected.”
Ross explained how this influenced the creation of Checkmate Socks: “Its all about the concept of checking that your mates are ok and the pattern on the socks is the instigator of the conversation that leads to someone hopefully being able to open up. Every morning you’re pulling on a pair and maybe drop your friend a text message when you see the socks or the logo.” Ross contributes 10% of all his sales to mental health charities including SAMH and has added NHS Charities Together to the list throughout the pandemic.
Lois White is a full-time fashion and lifestyle Instagram influencer from Fife, who uses her platform to address important issues including mental health, which is something that she has personally struggled with throughout her life.
“I’ve suffered since I was really young with it myself, and then I tried to take my own life over a year ago just now… When I was younger, when I suffered with it, nobody spoke about it at all; and if you did speak about it you were seen as being a bit attention-seeking.”
Lois is making an effort to change the stigma attached to mental health through being open about her own experience. She said: “Obviously because I’ve got my Instagram I felt like what’s the point in having such a big platform and not sharing how you feel about it? I just felt like its just totally pointless to have this and not be able to make other people feel a bit less alone.”
She also uses her platform to raise awareness of mental health campaigns and raise funds for charities. She said: “I started talking about mental health about three years ago, and since then I’ve done quite a bit of work for the Scottish Government especially during lockdown, like the ‘Clear Your Head Challenge’. I helped to raise money for the Joshua Nolan Foundation, they’re an Edinburgh-based charity who help to fund counselling sessions for children and adults who have suffered some sort of trauma in their life.”
20-year-old Gabrielle Livingstone is the founder of The “Unheard Group”, an Instagram page for people who have a parent with cancer or have lost a parent, as well as general mental health awareness. She started this page after realising nothing like this existed, as she was suffering alone with the fact that her dad was diagnosed with terminal skin cancer four years ago.
She explained how she felt when she was told the news: “My life within that second just completely flipped, everything was different. You really don’t understand until you get it yourself, cancer is such a taboo topic… they don’t really talk about it.”
“The reaction I’ve had is actually crazy. The amount of people who have reached out to me and said ‘I feel the exact same way as you, nobody talks about cancer’. Its just such a taboo topic, no one I went to school with understood. There’s a big issue with education, people need to be taught about this.”
Gabrielle added: “This is why I’m working with the Scottish Government with my good friend, we’re setting up this whole campaign to help kids who have suffered from bereavement, because it is shocking that there is nothing in place already.”
UWS Student Councillor and Wellbeing Advisor, Murray Sharp, commented on the incredible work these young people are doing to raise awareness of mental health.
He said: “Something that is great is the creativity that people have; the ideas and ways that people are trying to link that in and finding different ways of talking about mental health in environments where that maybe wouldn’t have happened before.”
When asked what advice he would give to anyone suffering with their mental health at the moment during lockdown, he said:
“The first thing I would say is to acknowledge that it is really hard at the moment. Certainly for me, I’ve tried to be quite disciplined with myself to go for a walk every day, I’d really encourage people to think about that and make sure you are giving yourself time off. And to be kind to ourselves when times are a bit harder.”
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