“We should all be looking out for each other” - City College student’s campaign to fight mental health stigma

mental health feature with Sarah Barrett and her mother Cath PicklesPHOTO: Nick Butcher

mental health feature with Sarah Barrett and her mother Cath PicklesPHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

As someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for several years, Sarah Barrett has constantly had to deal with the stigma attached to mental health issues.

But today, the 18-year-old is battling back – with her own campaign urging people to 'fight the stigma'.

The City College Norwich student, who lives with her family near Southwold, was the victim of a violent attack when she was nine.

She kept the assault secret for many years, as she felt unable to speak about what happened.

But even before she finally revealed the truth when she was 14, she began to self-harm after having 'horrible thoughts and flashbacks'.

She said people 'didn't know the reasons behind why I was so angry and they just thought I was naughty'.

She was eventually diagnosed with PTSD – but was bullied at school, even when people noticed cuts from where she had self-harmed.

Most Read

And despite experiencing dissociative features – where someone feels as though their mind is disconnected from their body – she did not get hospital treatment until after she had taken multiple overdoses.

'I was pushed into a deep, dark hole which I couldn't get out of,' she said.

Even then, the nearest hospital that could accommodate her was in Southampton, adding to her problems with homesickness and anxiety.

Yet despite all her challenges, Sarah scored strong GCSE results.

And as part of her extended project qualification (EPQ) at City College Norwich, which she is studying in place of A-levels, Sarah has chosen to create a campaigning website to raise awareness about mental health issues where people can share their own stories.

'I want to raise awareness and give people a voice,' she explained.

'It's not a small problem – it's a big, big, big problem and people are dying because of it.

'However, people don't know enough about it, which is why education is needed. The more people that know about it, the better.

'People are scared of the unknown. Why are people scared of the dark? It's because they don't know what's there.

'That's what mental health is like to people who don't understand – it's like they're in the dark.'

Sarah's mother, Cath Pickles, added: 'If I had a child with leukaemia or kidney failure, people would rally round.

'When your child has mental health issues, the assumption of us as parents is that we're doing something wrong.

'If we see someone in physical distress, we help. If we see someone with mental health problems, we run away.

'We should all be looking out for each other.'

Have you got a mental health story in Waveney? Email andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter