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Natalie Lanfear has lived with mental distress for ten years, although the 23-year-old believes she most likely had depression for around three years before her diagnosis.

“It took me a long time to accept that I had this illness even though deep down I knew something wasn’t right,” she says.

“I was having more bad months, rather than just days, but I knew every trick in the book to cover up my mental distress so other people didn't know I had it. I used to tell people I was OK, “sweet as”, but this just made my mental health worse.”

Recovery for Natalie came through the support of a fantastic “crew” of close friends and family. To her surprise, she also found counselling worked really well for her.

“Usually I’m not very good at opening up to strangers, but at the time I was desperate and running out of options and counselling provided a neutral playing field. I was willing to give it a go and I had a really good counsellor.”

Online support reaches more youth

In 2016, Natalie found out about the POD programme, and applied for a place in the Like Minds, Like Mine incubator.

“I had been looking for a way of moulding a creative project idea with a topic of discussion, such as mental health, and bringing it to life using a prominent social media platform [like YouTube].”

Natalie created a web series to raise awareness about social inclusion for people with experience of mental distress, and generate social change.

The Mindful Minute Challenge is aimed at youth aged 13-18 and is designed to challenge how they think about mental distress, social exclusion/inclusion and their own mental wellbeing.

She has a number of people participating and has had good feedback from her online video posts as well as the print and e-booklet.

“Sometimes you are not sure until you put it out into the world whether or not you are connecting with others. It’s nice to hear from people you don’t know, that they like it and find it helpful too,” Natalie says.

Being included is vital to improving wellbeing

Natalie sees social inclusion as an extremely important way to combat mental health discrimination.

“Being included is paramount for those who are experiencing mental distress. It can reduce the distress that people may encounter when going through a tough time and make things more bearable.

“It is so important for people to talk to others who are going through similar experiences, as it can feel less daunting and can be key to improving mental wellbeing.”

By sharing her personal experiences, Natalie hopes it will make other young people understand that things can get better, and they’re not alone.

“I know that sometimes leaving the house, let alone going to going speak to someone about your current mental health status can be very daunting. Having a resource like The Mindful Minute project available online in the comfort of your home can help relieve some of that pressure.”

An ever-evolving project

Natalie really enjoys being part of POD. “It’s come to mean a lot more than I expected,” she says. “It’s the people that make it special. Now I have a network of ‘PODders’ who are on my wavelength.

“Having people with personal experience of mental distress working on their projects out there in the world, towards a common goal, that’s what makes the programme what it is. That is what will make a difference.”

Natalie hopes her project continues to evolve into better versions of itself. She says this may mean creating a new and improved version of the web series, different versions of the book or getting a subscription box element of the project started (where people can order an assortment of self-care items such as candles or tea).

“However, my main hope with this project is to get more young people feeling comfortable talking with others about their mental health and wellbeing.”