Charlotte Underwood is a 22 year-old writer and mental health advocate from Norfolk. She experienced mental ill health in her teenage years and felt isolated and unsupported in her youth. For World Mental Health Day, Charlotte tells her story and how taking a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course has empowered her to support herself and the people around her.

Growing up, I was alone. I didn’t have friends to talk to, I couldn’t bear the idea of talking to someone authoritative and my home life just wasn’t very open. I am certain that I had a mental illness before I was told I did. 

I was never taught about mental health or feelings outside of puberty. I was so isolated, I have to consider the way this made me manage my mental health; would I have made the same choices if I understood what was going on?

I developed seriously unhealthy coping methods, such as self-medication, because I felt like I had no outlet. I certainly didn’t have the support I needed.

Because of this, I realise that being alone in your fight against your own mind can make matters even worse. Something as simple as a little bit of support from a friend, no matter how close, could make a mile of difference in how your day will feel. 

I decided that I cannot change my past, it is just a part of me, the good and the bad, and I should embrace it; after all, it does not define me. But, I can make a little change in this big world so that others will not have to feel alone, so I created this tiny community and offer a hand in support daily. 

It's rewarding to be able to be there for so many people, across the world. Not only do I know that I am making a bit of good in someone else’s life, but I am learning more about myself and that I too am not alone; I am not a problem. 

When I was given the chance to do Mental Health First Aid training, I jumped at it without hesitation. Sure, I believe that my understanding of mental health is strong but at the same time, I can always learn more and hopefully build on the skills that I already have.

The course contained a lot of information that I had already learned through my mental health advocacy, but it shed a light onto the broadness of mental health and I did learn so much more about disorders and side effects that I have not been through myself. 

I left the course, once completed, feeling refreshed in my understanding and confident in my ability to support anyone in need, which comes in helpful with my approach of being an open book who anyone can message if they needed to talk. 

There are times I have had to use my training, knowing just a few ways to better help the person that I am talking. It helps to understand where to protect yourself also. I know that MHFA has helped me be a better person to myself and to others. 

Being able to have the skills and knowledge to save a life, especially when it comes to mental health, gives you a whole new purpose and ability to make a real change in the world. In a way, you are a superhero because you can help change a person’s life and make the world a better place.

Charlotte regularly writes about mental health on her website, where you can read her blog.

To read more on Youth MHFA training, click here.