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An Interview with Chris Lewis

Having met with Chris on multiple occasions over the past 18 months, I knew his experience in the social mental health media sector would make a valuable article. On meeting with him in Costa in preparation to interview him, we realised our time would be best spent brainstorming our upcoming #FriendlyFarnham initiative. And so here are Chris' responses to questions sent to him later that afternoon. - Emma Lyddon (Founder and Director of Kind To Mind).

In November 2020 I contracted an unknown illness that left me bed bound for three months (we later learned it was the original strain of COVID-19) I have lived with OCD and anxiety most of my life, but being bed bound amplified my anxiety. Shortly after COVID-19 became a threat, and the world went into lock down. I knew a lot of people like me were isolated which would make their mental health decline. I set up a Facebook group called Friends with Anxiety, the initial idea was it would be a good distraction for me whilst stuck in bed, and I could help people quietly struggling. The group grew very quickly, it became clear very quickly that so many were struggling like myself and not getting support they needed.

Major services like SHOUT and the Samaritans were dealing with demand on a scale they had never handled before, and most other well-known services were running on limited capabilities as staff worked from home. Our group admin called/messaged struggling members and provided a peer support platform. We then organised group walks with in allowed guidelines at the time, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t understand why there wasn’t a directory of support options available to those struggling, that wasn’t made entirely of overrun household names.

Our page Anxiety Amongst Friends was born in an effort to help with this. Essentially it’s a Facebook friendly directory of support for Surrey and Hampshire. The page also acts as my blog, I write articles about mental health from a factual side that is written so anyone (including non-sufferers will understand) I’m a big believer in writing about taboo subjects like rape, miscarriage, menopause, domestic abuse and suicide. Simply because no one will talk about it, yet most of us at some point in our lifetime will be affected by this. If not ourselves then someone we know. People shouldn’t feel afraid to be honest about how they are feeling, especially after experiencing a trauma. My aim on these pieces is always to be sensitive, factual, informative and to break the stigma of not talking about it and vocalize, from a male perspective that any abuse is inexcusable. I’m often asked why I don’t do this as a full time job. Why I don’t register as a charity, and make a living from what we have done over the last two years. The truth is I do it because I care and want to make a difference. When money is involved it naturally shifts your focus, and I’m keen to always focus on what matters to me. Helping others and making a difference.

I have met with numerous local MP’s and medical professionals, and we all agreed that a directory that’s easy to use, distribute and low cost is needed. There are literally hundreds of therapists and services in the Surrey and Hampshire area, available to support those struggling the next day but no one uses them as they are not aware they exist or can afford their services. Whilst there are online directories like the hub of hope that cover the whole of the UK they only have sign posting to services, not additional support like techniques and support groups. Working towards getting mental health normalized and support available from day one is key for me. The local IAPT services that are funded by the NHS are great, but the wait to see them is far too long. If those struggling got help sooner their mental health wouldn’t escalate which in return lower the ever growing level of suicide in the UK. It’s a sad truth that a lot of people have been failed by our current mental health system in the UK, but we have the opportunity as individuals to change this. Instead of relying on a government we know won’t meet the demand needed, services and individuals can make changes like a directory of support that will ultimately save lives. Hopefully if we all find a way to make a positive change it will make our children’s, and their children’s lives better.


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