#NOLABELS: Nikky Reed on normalising the conversation on mental health

Mental health. With 1 in 6 people in England experiencing a common mental disorder [1], it certainly seems to be something we are all affected by. Yet, despite this, it is plied with stigmas, with people often finding themselves shying away from making it a topic of conversation.

But, according to a recent report by the NHS on Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) [2], in June 2020 there were over 100,000 referrals to talking therapies: so shouldn’t this be a normalised conversation?

That’s exactly what Nikky Reed aims to do. Since qualifying as an occupational therapist in 2004, Reed has used her training to break down the stigmas of mental health and make it an approachable topic of conversation.

“I have a real passion about trying to make mental health language accessible,” she says, understanding that sometimes speaking to a mental health professional can be overwhelming with jargon not used in colloquial language. “I really wanted to break down the barrier.”

The result? Nearly two years ago, she launched #NOLABELS, a high street shop located in the small town of Lechlade. As the inclusive name implies, #NOLABELS seeks to help those with or without a mental health diagnosis start a conversation and in doing so, remove “the scariness of it,” as Reed suggests. Combining her two passions of craft and mental health, Reed’s local shop sells beautiful handmade gifts and cards, designed or up-cycled by numerous people with connections to mental health. As well as her shop, Reed also stays active on social media, and offers occupational therapy sessions.

Credit: @nolabelsmentalwellbeing on Instagram

Utilising craft has been a popular mindfulness activity used by a multitude of occupational therapists, with it’s scientific benefits including reduced stress and overall feeling more positive in terms of your mental health [3]. Speaking on occupational therapy, Reed says that “they require you to think about how to break down a task into manageable steps…craft is a really lovely way of being able to do that.”

Reed continues to explain why this method in particular is so popular and has transferrable skills into coping with mental health. “Because you’re doing a craft activity, your eye contact is on the craft and your basis of the conversation is about that,” she says, “that allows you to be able to gently explore some of the other things that are going on with someone.

“Once you build your confidence, you might feel more confident about going out if that was something that was difficult.”

Since launching the shop, Reed has received a multitude of positive feedback, most notably amongst those who are reaching out for help for the first time.

“What I found more, is that actually I have more people where it’s the first that they’ve found somebody to talk to, she continues: “It’s opened up a lot more accessibility for people who perhaps have no idea or haven’t had mental health in their world very much.”

In particular, men have often been placed at a high risk of suicide, due to a lack in conversation. Data from the Office of National Statistics said that in 2019, men accounted for three quarters of registered suicides, with 4,303 deaths compared to 1,388 in women [4]. Aren’t these statistics alone enough to encourage us to start normalising this conversation?

“It’s really hard to start talking about something,” says Reed, “if you don’t use that language, you don’t have emotional language to use to describe what it is.

“It’s so, so sad that so many people aren’t able to have that conversation or have that broken down enough to prevent suicide.”

Credit: @nolabelsmentalwellbeing on Instagram

Reed herself has also dealt with depression and anxiety in her life, and understands how difficult it can be to feel that things will get better. “When you’re in it, it’s really hard to believe it’s going to change, but it’s the only thing you can hold onto,” she continues, “I think that’s the biggest thing to share with people is I get it, I understand it feels it will never change…I want you to trust me that it will, it will change.”

Since the origin of #NOLABELS, Reed has seen the impact that her work has done. “One person in particular always said to me that it was you know the one thing that kept her holding on all week, that she knew she could sit and talk to me on Saturday…it gave her a huge shift of confidence that she wasn’t broken.”

So how can we begin to implement the topic of mental health into our everyday conversations, as we would with anything else? How do we reach out those who may be struggling with their mental health?

Keep reaching out. Offer catch ups with your friends. Remind them every once in a while that you are thinking of them and be consistent with your conversations.

“If you are saying something with kindness and authenticity and that you are genuinely curious about how somebody is, whatever it is, as long as you’ve held it in your heart when you’re offering, it’s okay.

“People who are struggling with their mental health often have difficulty with making decisions, often feel really overwhelmed really really quickly, so try and keep things as simple as you can…instead of giving five dates to meet up…give one.”

But what about those who are wanting to speak out about their own mental health?

“In my own personal journey, I wish I had just talked to my friends earlier,” says Reed.

“As soon as you’re starting to try and explain it out loud, the critical voices and the illness has less power immediately because you’ve already opened it up and you have support from somebody.”

With September being suicide prevention month, perhaps now more than ever, we should begin to follow in Reed’s footsteps, and normalise the conversation on something that is a concern of us all.

For more information on Nikky Reed’s #NOLABELS, visit her website, follow her on Instagram, or if you are ever in the area of Lechlade, do pop into her beautiful shop, located on 6a Burford St, Lechlade GL7 3FS.

References:

[1] McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016) Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds: NHS Digital.

[2] NHS Digital. (2020) Psychological Therapies: Reports On The Use Of IAPT Services, England June 2020 Final Including Reports On The IAPT Pilots And Quarter 1 Data 2020-21 – NHS Digital. [online] Available at: <https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/psychological-therapies-report-on-the-use-of-iapt-services/june-2020-final-including-reports-on-the-iapt-pilots-and-quarter-1-data-2020-21&gt; [Accessed 18 September 2020].

[3] Brooks Olsen, H., 2020. Crafting: A Cure For Depression? The Link Between Crafting And Health. [online] CreativeLive Blog. Available at: <https://www.creativelive.com/blog/science-says-crafting-good-brain/#:~:text=But%20a%20study%20cited%20by,from%20damage%20caused%20by%20aging.&gt; [Accessed 18 September 2020].

[4] Butler, P., 2020. Male Suicide Rate Hits Two-Decade High In England And Wales. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/sep/01/male-suicide-rate-england-wales-covid-19&gt; [Accessed 18 September 2020].

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