TCH is delighted to welcome this year’s keynote speaker Nadiya Hussain who delighted Great British Bake-Off fans with her charm, humility and cake-making skills. Nadiya harnessed her TV win to spread an open and honest message about mental health and has become one of the UK’s most prominent advocates of embracing and tackling mental health by speaking candidly about facing her demons.
Q. Let’s start at the beginning. Before Bake-Off you were an ordinary mum, juggling life like millions of women around the world. Did you ever face mental health challenges before you found fame?
A. Before Bake-Off I was a stay at home mum. I gave up work a few weeks before I got married and then stayed at home with the kids and started a degree. There are challenges with being a stay at home mum, but I have faced these challenges for as long as I can remember. Being at home creates an image of laziness or lack of ambition and a perception that we rely on the system to provide for our children. So despite making an active decision to stay at home I was constantly faced with these issues which added to my mental load and I often felt very low.
Q. Did your mental health change after you won Bake-Off?
A. It changed and it was challenged in a big way. I found myself in completely new situations so my anxiety was doing things I didn’t recognise. It has been at its worst since being in the public eye, but equally it has left me forced to really understand my anxiety and how to deal with it.
Q. You have said that you don’t take medication for your illness?
A. I don’t take medication for my illness because I also suffer from PTSD. It wasn’t right for me at the time, but I am not ruling it out completely. It may be something I will have to consider in the future.
Q. How do you keep the symptoms at bay when you’re working?
A. The symptoms are always there and can vary from day to day. I have great days and awful days and days in between. Now rather than putting all my efforts into trying to hide my symptoms, I do the total opposite, I allow the panic to come on and somehow that really helps the symptoms subside and sometimes disappear.
Q. You talk about your panic disorder ‘monster’. Can you explain why you’ve given your illness that name?
A. Well as an adult with young children I needed a way to explain anxiety to my children in a more tangible manner so that they could understand it. So when it’s at its worst my monster shouts in my face and when it’s somewhere in the middle, it kind of follows me around and taps on my shoulder and when it’s most manageable it’s small enough to sit in my pocket and I can go about my day.
Q. Your openness about mental health is inspirational. How can we encourage other high profile figures to open up in order to change the narrative on workplace wellbeing?
A. Being open has not been easy and it has been a battle with myself as to whether I wanted to be so open about my anxiety. Often having a mental health illness can make a person appear weak. Vulnerability isn’t something that we encourage in our society, in general. I think the narrative is changing as a whole and we are getting better at talking. That’s why it’s important for everyone, no matter what platform, to talk. We all have a platform big or small and we should use it to talk about the things people want to keep swept under the carpet.
Q. You have spent much of your time in the spotlight contributing to an ongoing discussion about mental health. Where do you see society compared to 10 years ago and where do you think we need to aim to be 10 years from now?
A. 10 years ago I could not have fully explained mental health. Mental health like any other illness is an illness, so that is how we need to treat it. Like an illness. It needs funding, it needs to be taken seriously. Change is happening, albeit slow, there is progress. Progress is all we need and as long as we keep talking and continue to bring it to the fore who knows where we will be in 10 years. Perhaps an A&E for people suffering with mental illness, where they can be treated like any other emergency ailment?
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