This Time to Talk Day, journalist Sophie Mei Lan, who recently qualified as Mental Health Aware, shares her story of how vlogging on her phone helped her through a traumatic experience and started a new chapter of her career as a mental health YouTuber.
You can also find out more about Sophie’s experience on MHFA England’s Mental Health Aware Half Day course in her vlog below.
During my careers sessions at school I would proclaim that I wanted to be a TV presenter, an actress or a journalist. Becoming a Vlogger (creating videos online) aka being a "YouTuber" wasn't even a thing back then because YouTube didn't exist and we could only access the World Wide Web through a slow dial-up.
After setting up a human rights magazine at university and a video production company, I decided to pursue journalism as a career full-time, working for local and national press. I loved journalism and I lived for it, but I really struggled in a newsroom environment as I can find some stories quite triggering when it comes to my mental health.
For a while I endured the triggers in pursuit of ‘my dream’. That was until my second child was born and aged three months she nearly died from pneumonia and Strep B. These moments, when my world nearly ended, changed my mind over what my dream really was.
As I struggled to watch my newborn in intensive care, I started keeping a video diary. I couldn’t cope with talking to friends in person or to put pen to paper but the simplicity of keeping a video diary on my phone kept me sane. I would sit for ages in the family room as my daughter fought for her life and I would talk to my phone.
Miraculously, Arianna pulled through and made a full recovery. I was off from work due to maternity but as I was a freelance journalist I still had to do bits of work. I showed my editor the footage I had taken and together we made it into a vlog-style documentary for the BBC called “Save My Baby.”
Find out more about Sophie's course experience here:
During that time, I continued to vlog as I found it really therapeutic. I myself had been diagnosed with Anxiety, Depression and Psychosis and talking about it really helped as I didn’t want to talk directly to another human being when I felt really bad.
By then, I had already started my own parenting blog mamamei.co.uk so the next step was to start a vlog as it came so naturally to me. It felt weird putting such raw and sometimes ugly footage out there, but I knew deep down that it was my calling. I knew that if I was suffering like this, there would be other people too.
I started to vlog about parenting, mental health and daily life. I didn’t think anyone would find it that interesting as it was just my normal life and my passions I was speaking about, but amazingly people began to watch and follow my vlogs and I really started to feel I was talking to people and creating my own community.
The great thing about the online world (despite the trolling) is that you can meet like-minded people with shared experiences from all around the world. And as a content creator, you can make content from the comfort of your own home. As a journalist, I was used to commuting to Media City in Salford or travelling to London for editorial meetings, but with blogging and vlogging I am the editor and I can do it with the kids or within school hours.
So just over a year ago I decided to take the plunge and focus on vlogging as my main career. It was the one thing that I could do even when my mental health was bad and if anything, it helped to pull me through the dark times. Since then I have had 11 million views and have 32,000 subscribers and was named one of the top 10 UK Parent YouTubers of 2018. I also teach vlogging and blogging and, somehow, even during bad episodes with my mental health, I have continued to make videos.
So, whilst my mental illnesses have meant I have had to give up driving and working in a newsroom, I am pleased it has led me into a family-friendly career of being a Youtuber. I now see that my greatest vulnerabilities are my biggest strengths. I am able to chat to people around the globe about so-called taboo topics, and whilst there is obviously a dark side to the internet, for me it has provided me with a lifeline and a new lease of life. I can be my true authentic self, I can work around my mental illness and I can still have a purpose whilst being able to do the school and nursery runs.
No job is ever perfect and content creation takes a lot of work like any job, but it’s as close to perfection as I’ll ever get.
Sophie attended the MHFA England Mental Health Aware Half Day course. You can read more about it on our website here: mhfaengland.org/individuals/adult/half-day.