Talking mental health with MindOut’s CEO, Helen Jones

white woman wearing glasses, smiling into the camera, wearing a multi-textured green and blue top and a snood scarf. She has short curly bob hair cut.

When did you first become aware of your own mental health?

I grew up in a family where mental health was often talked about. My mother had bi-polar and my father was often depressed, so I was aware of mental health issues from a very young age. I saw first hand how prejudiced people were about mental health and how ashamed my parents were. Both of them had to keep their mental health secret from their employers, their friends and from the communities they lived in. This seemed really wrong to me and the effects of that stigma made me feel ashamed too.

How have you experienced mental health challenges?

In my early 20s I had a mental health crisis; I was depressed and anxious for a long time. I have struggled with my mental health on and off ever since.

How has identifying as LGBTQ affected your mental health?

Realising that I was lesbian and coming out were very good for me. It really helped me make sense of my feelings and my life! But it was also distressing to come out – there was so much prejudice, negativity and silence about lesbian identities and my parents were initially very disapproving and hostile. They saw it as a ‘phase’. They were very upset when I became pregnant in a non-traditional way. Being part of LGBTQ communities has been really beneficial for me – I was (am) an activist, starting with the Clause 28 protests.

What inspired you to work in LGBTQ mental health?

All of the above! I have been passionate about mental health rights since the age of 5! I saw first hand how much people suffered in silence, how difficult it can be to talk about mental health and I wanted to contribute to changing that. I have been lucky enough to work with some really inspirational people, from the beginning of MindOut 21 years ago and including all of the amazing MindOut staff and volunteers.

What do you know about mental health now that you wished you’d known at age 10?

I wish I had known that traumatic experiences can take a long time to heal, and that help is on its way!

What’s the best support you’ve experienced for your mental health?

Having the opportunity to work in a meaningful job, with the support of my co-workers has made an enormous difference to my mental health. It’s a huge privilege to work for MindOut. Also finding supportive, kind people to talk to. Peer support has helped me hugely, finding different ways to tell my story. That and regular exercise!

Have you seen anything improve in mental health over the last 20 years?

How we talk about mental health has changed so much since I was a kid, we are so much more aware and open and kind about mental health than we used to be, in general. And hopefully more empowered to call out stigma when we see it and much more conscious of how we stigmatise other people. I am really encouraged by that. It’s a massive social change and I am ever so proud to have been a part of that.