Featured Advocate: Leah Jones
Updated: Apr 23, 2021
Stress is something I've struggled with since I was a teenager. It was my English teacher; Melanie Henderson who advised me to try poetry as a way of expressing myself when I told her I was suffering from nightmares.
Early 2017, I lost 2 grandparents in the same week, which sparked a new wave of poetry inspired by the loss and depression I was feeling.
I then began to lose my hair, which was dismissed as stress. It wasn't until my mother demanded a second opinion, I was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata. I lost a great deal of hair on one side of my head. This resulted in me needed head scarves and a wig. The only thing that kept me from crying on a daily basis was knowing I wasn't losing my hair through a fatal illness. I felt unattractive, ugly, helpless, anxious and refused to go outside. I didn't want to socialise, even with my family and dreaded anyone talking about it. My anxiety became worse when a girl at work (at my former employers) began telling everyone and making fun of my head scarves. I was called a Gypsy. Thankfully, my team leader saw this and put a stop to it. But no one else seemed to listen or care.
The only thing I took solace in was my poetry and reading. My book collection offered me an escape from the negativity. Thankfully, 17 steroid injections into my head later, my hair has grown back. However, the disease is very unpredictable and incurable. It could happen again at any moment and is exacerbated by stress, caused by depression and anxiety.
These are feelings I hope to help young people overcome and learn how to express themselves in the most adverse situations. They need to know they matter, they are important and people do care.
During my time at university, I was a team leader for the pro-bono project; Street Law. It's a project made up of 4 groups; Stop and Search, Antisocial Behaviour (these were my 2 groups), employment and consumer law. We would coach the group members on their presentation skills, build their confidence in public speaking and educate them on the 4 topics. We would then go to homeless shelters, schools and youth hostels and present the work to the community and advise them of their rights. The students would then gain the necessary skills for negotiations, confidence building, networking and so much more.
I was awarded the High Sheriff Community Award for my volunteering with such causes.
What excites you?
The smallest of things excite me. However, the main thing I look forward to every Wednesday is visiting my Taid (my Grandad). For years, I have stayed with him every Wednesday night and we have watched Westerns and Murder She Wrote. No matter how bad my week has been, Wednesday's always manage to put a smile on my face and make me forget about the stress endured. Precious moments like these need to be cherished.
What matters to you?
My family, my friends and my boyfriend mean the absolute world to me. I don't know where I would be without them.
We don't need lots of friends, just a few close ones that really look out for you and have your best interests at heart. People you can really rely on.
What drives you?
My Taid and my boyfriend are my motivation to do well in life. Daniel has supported me through so much, I am determined to make him proud.
My Taid likes to tell everyone how Granddaughter's a lawyer, and so to make him proud is more than anything I could hope for.
Knowing the depression and anxiety I have felt and continue to feel, I hope to help as many young people as possible to avoid these feelings and to expose the issues surrounding mental health and stress. It's far too quickly dismissed and ignored.
What do you stand for?
Mental health in young people. Far too often I was ignored and pushed to the side when I sought help for stress. I experienced mental, emotional and even physical effects of stress and it was ignored. It was only when a panic attack sent me to the hospital twice it was recognised that I need help.
I am still on a waiting list for counseling after almost a year. Young people still studying and those in their 20's just starting out are constantly cast aside as attention seekers and being told "it's a phase" - they need to be educated, they need available help without long waiting lists. Schools should have this help readily available, a school counselor qualified in mental health nursing perhaps.
What causes are special to your heart?
Welsh Mountain Rescue
Happy Faces Children's Charity
What's the difference you want to make?
I want to expose the issues young people face daily because of stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. The causes of the issues and expose those who do not help when asked.
I begged my last employer for help with stress. I went home daily crying to my parents and to my boyfriend. I was put on antidepressants, which only made me break out in a horrendous rash and my skin burnt and turned red. Thankfully a herbal tablet is helping. However, if I wasn't ignored and only sent a link to Samaritans - I wouldn't have needed medication.
Students are all too often told stress is just something we have to deal with in life. Whilst there is an element of truth to that, it doesn't need to be as bad as it is. Students are ignored when crying for help with stress and depression. They are told they'll get over it and it'll pass, or it'll be worth it.
I hope to educate students on how to avoid these feelings, how to express them in a healthy way through means of literature, as my Teacher taught me.
Follow Leah on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LeahvJones94
How will you overcome stress this week?