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My Journey Through Mental Health

February 2021

Written by Jamie Smith, Senior Researcher at Barbour ABI

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        Last Friday, Barbour ABI arranged for a special guest speaker to come and speak to us. That person was none other than Adam Smith, the founder of The Real Junk Food Project. Adam spoke to us about the journey he has been on which has led him to where his is now. His story is nothing short of special and truly inspirational.

        Adam was dealt a tough hand in the early years of his life. At the age of 10 he was taken into care, he went to prison and he was sectioned into a mental health institution. This proved to all too much for Adam, when in 2010 he was found alone, and presumed dead at the scene from an attempted drug overdose. It was a text message he sent to his friend before passing out that saved his life. His friend contacted the police to send out vehicles and even a helicopter to look for Adam.

        It was at this point Adam knew he had to turn his life around, so much so, he travelled to Australia. He was a successful chef during his time there, but in order to extend his stay in Australia, he had to work on farms and it was there that he had seen first-hand the amount of food that was going to waste. This sparked his idea to create ‘The Real Junk Food Project’. To learn more about The Real Junk Food Project and how you can help, visit their website here.

        Adam went on to tell us that amongst all his success in developing this fantastic project, he was receiving a lot of attention through media coverage. It was then that he realised that he wasn’t coping well with all this attention and he saw the signs that he was beginning to struggle with his mental health again. Adam realised, on looking back, that he had not dealt with his mental health issues properly, he had just moved away and tried to forget, prompting him to get back in touch with his old therapist with whom he still attends sessions with to this day.

        There were parts of Adam’s story that really resonated with me. I have struggled with my own mental health, and can track that back to issues starting when I was about 7 years old. I was bullied for my appearance by those that I had always considered to be my friends. I was always quite a shy person, so I never wanted to confront them, I just thought to myself I have football, which I knew I was better than any of them at. In year 3 I was playing for my year 6 team, playing for the older age group at club level. I was also being scouted by Liverpool, Everton & Tranmere and had the opportunity in my hands to become what I had always wanted to be, a professional footballer. But these opportunities all fell through for different reasons. My supposed friends saw this as another chance to target me and branded me a failure, so what did I have over the bullies now? As I saw it, I had absolutely nothing.

        It was the summer holidays at the end of my primary school years, and I spent a large part of them alone. I wanted to change something, so I got rid of the bowl haircut, shaved all my hair off and got myself a new pair of glasses. However, the biggest change was my personality. I became the joker, the funny one. I wanted to make people laugh and I was the same right the way through high school.

        When I was in my early 20s like Adam, I was starting to struggle with my mental health, after failed relationships, distancing myself from my friends and family. I felt so alone. I felt I had no one to talk to anymore, and because I didn’t open up about my anxieties and depression to anyone, it all got too much for me. One evening I had too much to drink, I got in a taxi crying my eyes out, I told the driver where I wanted to go, it was time for all this to end. For whatever reason I had texted a colleague at the time who I considered a friend and told him what I was going to do. He tried calling me and texting me, but I continued to ignore him and if it wasn’t for him raising the alarm with the police to help find me, I wouldn’t be here today. I thank him all the time and he will forever be a big part of my life for what he did for me that day. I’m now 31 years of age, engaged to be married, with a daughter who is 3 and a little boy due to arrive in June.

        There are a lot of things in our lives that can cause us to struggle with our mental health, whether that be in our personal lives or our work lives. Mental health is not something we can forget about, it’s not something we can deal with alone. There is always that one person we can go to for support. Things haven’t got any easier in our lives since COVID-19 hit, whether you’ve been furloughed or continued work from home, our lives have been significantly disrupted.

        Since the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, Barbour ABI have continued to work right the way through, however we all had to adapt to new surroundings and new challenges: parents having to home school their children; working from home with partners every day; being home alone, and internet issues, to name but a few. These are all reasons why one may struggle with their mental health, but throughout this time, Barbour ABI have been fantastic with their support. The management team make regular welfare calls to see how everyone is getting on and ask if there was anything we need. Our Office Manager & HR Manager offered their support should anyone want to reach out, and we could also get in contact with the EAP (Employee Assistance Programme), if we felt we didn’t want to speak to anyone else in the business.

        When we’re suffering with our mental health, the first obstacle we need to pass is to admit it to ourselves. To admit that we need support from someone else and reaching out to someone is the hardest thing we can do and as someone who has battled with depression, I wanted to take that obstacle away. After speaking to a few people, I decided to set up a call once a week dubbed ‘Do you want to chat?’, and people have the option to attend should they want to. I wanted create an environment where people could speak freely about anything they wanted to, share their stories, see faces they haven’t seen in nearly 12 months, new recipes they’ve tried, new exercise regimes, new TV series or even just join the calls to listen to others.

        Please remember that you’re never alone, don’t be afraid to pass that first obstacle, help and support is always available.

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