An Interview with Charlotte Underwood: Finding A Voice To Help Others
This interview is part of a series featuring individuals that have been impacted by mental illness. Each individual featured on the Uncustomary Housewife’s Not Alone Series has a valuable mental health story to tell. I hope that people will read these stories, find strength in them, and realize that they are not alone.
I recently conducted an interview with Charlotte Underwood: an author and mental health advocate from Norfolk, United Kingdom. Charlotte is passionate about raising awareness of mental health, and doing what she can to prevent suicide. During our interview Charlotte explained her journey with mental illness, and how she coped with the death of her father by writing. Charlotte also offered some promising advice for those struggling with their mental health. Continue reading for the full interview:
EB: Elizabeth Banks (Interviewer)
CU: Charlotte Underwood (Interviewee)
EB: If you don’t mind, tell me about your diagnosis.
CU: Honestly, this question always stumps me. I’ve been told by countless doctors that I have chronic depression and been told I have generalized anxiety disorder by a therapist. But it’s also been suggested by other professionals that there is a huge chunk of other possibilities: I think that because of my treatment going round in circles, it means that my diagnosis is a little hard to really ‘profes’. Hopefully, I’ll have answers in the future!
EB: When did you first become aware of concerns related to your mental health?
CU: I’ve always felt like I have been different to everyone else. I’ve always seen the world in such a different light; so much so that I never really got to be a child, and I only got a few teen years before I became an adult super early.
It was at 14-years-old that I really felt like something wasn’t right, I found that I couldn’t understand people and that my ideas and feelings seemed to be so far from everyone else. I didn’t know what mental health was at this point and so I started falling into self-harm and alcohol without understanding why. When I realized that I couldn’t be myself without being in pain; I realized something was wrong.
EB: You stated that you didn’t know what mental health was when you were younger. How did your outlook change when you learned about mental health, and mental illness?
CU: I had spent so long feeling like I had no hope, that I was just this problem – there was no way to fix that. Finding out that my feelings were real and that millions of other people went through similar things, so much that there is a diagnosis for it — it made me feel less alone. It told me that I was not the problem, societies stigma is. My outlook became so positive because I knew I could now live my life without feeling so burdened; I had a chance to live.
EB: Have there been particular events that caused you to seek help, or learn more about mental health?
CU: I’ve sought treatment so many times over the years for my mental health. Sometimes there were events, like my dad’s death.
EB: If you don’t mind, I would like to talk more about the death of your father. You wrote a book about it, titled “After Suicide”. I read it, and it is an absolutely remarkable personal account of your experiences. What was your motivation behind writing this book?
CU: My father passed by suicide in 2014, I was only 18 years old. He was my best friend, he was the person who helped me with my mental health and kept me fighting. He was the kind of person who when he caught me self-harming, he spent the rest of his short life researching mental health and became passionate about it, he did everything he could to understand and support me.
Losing him was a shock, because you are never ready to lose your daddy. I’m still not ready, and I still need him. I wrote the book because I wanted to give something accessible to the community of people who are left behind after suicide; a community which lacks so many resources and support — it’s a lonely thing and I suppose I wanted use my experience of grief to help others who go through it too.
EB: So, what other events or turning points led you to seek help?
CU: I think most of the time I wanted to get help because of how others were responding to my illness, I felt like I needed to be better so they would be happy. It wasn’t until just over a year ago I decided to get help because I knew that I deserved a future that wasn’t limited by my past.
EB: What experiences have you encountered with treatment?
CU: Therapy for me, so far, has not worked that much. In a way, it has helped me to be able to talk about my mental health, but a far as working on my trauma – it’s not been effective. I am still hopeful though that I can access a form of therapy in the future that will help. I believe that I’ve just not found the right one for me.
Just like therapy, I have tried lots of types of medication that don’t seem to help. The problem with medication is that it is a long road, it can be a long process to find the perfect medication for you; as our brains are all so perfectly unique. Some medications have made a difference, some not at all; the important thing though is that I continue to be honest about how they make me feel. Medication is not a bad thing and you shouldn’t feel bad for taking it or not taking it – but being honest is what will help you the most.
EB: I’m very glad that you mentioned being honest about how medications make you feel. You said, “medication is not a bad thing and you shouldn’t feel bad for taking it or not taking it”. Why do you think the topic of medication is so stigmatized, and socially taboo, right now?
CU: Whenever I was told about medication for “your head” as a kid, I didn’t understand it, just like I didn’t know about mental health. I thought people who had to take pills for their personality (I suppose is the best way to put it) were really ill and dangerous. I thought it was only for things like ADHD. It’s that stigma that took up a part of my childhood. Even when I got older I was told I shouldn’t take them [medications] because they will change me and make me numb. I think people are scared of medications, and in some ways we should be, we should know what we put into us, but medication is literally there to help is. I believe it is simply just a fear that taking it, will mean we have to accept we are sick, but there is no shame in being sick.
EB: While we’re on the topic of stigma: do you believe there is a negative stigma attached to mental health?
CU: There is a huge negative stigma attached to mental health. If there wasn’t, I would have known about mental health from the start and I would have had support from my friends and family as well as access for treatment as soon as possible; something I’m still struggling to get in my 20’s. It affects our schools, hospitals, homes and society in general. Many people are too scared to find the reasons or causes for mental illness, they can only see what is happening right in front of them – the cover.
EB: What, in your opinion, causes negative stigma surrounding mental health and illness?
CU: I think stigma exists because for generations we have taught ourselves to be scared of our mental health. Maybe it was survival to start, so that we could become a civilization. But today, we have more than we could ask for, but what we don’t have is people to talk to us and listen to us; we don’t have empathy for what is a vital and basic part of human biology – our mind.
EB: Why do you speak publicly about your mental illness and mental health?
CU: I spent my whole life in the shadows, I was bullied and ignored by strangers and those I loved. It felt like no one cared and certainly, no one wanted to help; I was so isolated and it created suicidal ideation. I thought about how I felt especially as a teenager and how lonely it was and realized, I can’t be alone. When I talk publicly about mental health, I’m trying to reach younger, or older, versions of myself who need someone to tell them that they matter and that they are not alone; or weird.
EB: Reminding people that they are not alone is extremely important, and I’m delighted to see that you are working for such an amazing cause. I’m based in the United States, while you are in the United Kingdom. Do you have any UK based mental health resources, groups, or communities that you would like to share?
CU: In the UK, resources are very limited. Generally, if you need help, you go to your GP first and then refer to a service called the wellbeing service – all under the NHS. It’s a messy system with lots of hoops.
But we also have charities like the Samaritans, Sobs, and Mind who do what they can to help people who need that extra support and someone to talk too. We lack so much in the UK for mental health resources but I’ve found charities in the latter are so supportive – but schools will soon be teaching mental health so we’re getting there.
EB: Speaking of your own mental health: have you developed positive coping strategies?
CU: The best strategy I have found is writing, I literally write about all aspects of my mind and my past. It feels so therapeutic to have all these thoughts in front of me, where I can learn to understand them and see that really, they aren’t so scary after all.
But I’ve also found that simply taking the steps to learn to talk about mental health and by learning to admit when to get help, that has saved my life on multiple occasions alone in the last year.
I don’t think managing mental health needs to be complex, it can be as simple as taking time for ourselves and giving ourselves the respect that we deserve but neglect.
EB: Do you have a mental health success story you would like to share with me?
CU: Two years ago, I was in a dark place, I had to leave my job due to a really heavy relapse. I felt like I had no hope of a good life. Today, I’ve released two small e-books, have a community on Twitter, a blog and have written to many guest posts for bloggers, newspapers and magazines that I can’t even count; I’ve even been on TV and Radion. All of this has been to raise awareness over mental health, something that I felt I couldn’t talk about two years and the decades before that. So I suppose I found my voice and it’s not only helping me but it seems to be helping others!
EB: What challenges and struggles are you still facing?
CU: I’m still struggling to commit to things such as education and work, even relationships can be hard for me. Really, I’m not far from where I was at the start but I have learned that I do not need to end my life to get better and that there is a future for me that is worth it. The main struggle though is getting treatment, it seems the UK still has a bit of a revolving door system which leaves me feeling tired and like I don’t matter.
EB: What advice do you have for individuals living with mental illness?
CU: Always remember that you deserve help and you deserve support. You are not a bad person because of your mental illness, you are not a problem. Life does not need to be limited or ended because of our illness, it can be lived to the full and many happy memories can be found.
EB: What advice do you have for friends and loved ones of individuals living with mental illness?
CU: Please don’t judge someone by their illness. Take the time to listen to them and understand what they are going through. Sometimes we don’t want answers, sometimes we just need someone to help us stand up when we feel like we are about to fall down.
EB: Have you given any pointers to your own friends and loved ones?
CU: Something I’ve always told my friends and loved ones is that I don’t need special treatment, I don’t need to be treated differently. But things like checking on me once in a while, asking me to get coffee or just letting me vent out my thoughts; that’s more than I can ask.
About Charlotte Underwood:
Charlotte Underwood is a 22-Year Old Mental Health Advocate from Norfolk UK. Charlotte is passionate about raising awareness of mental health and doing what she can to prevent suicide. Charlotte tries to be a friend to all so no one feels alone. You can find her on Twitter, and you can subscribe to her blog. Charlotte Underwood is also an author, and has written two books. Read the synopsis of her books below:
The House on The Avenue, by Charlotte Underwood
Mia Hunter is your ordinary child, at least she thinks she is. Her mother, Mrs. Hunter knows that Mia is far from ordinary. As Mr. Hunter transfers his job for a promotion, the Hunter family have to move so they are closer to his new workplace. Their new home appears to be a bargain but looks can be deceiving and this particular house, holds a terrible secret. Based on true events. Download the self-published E-Book here.
After Suicide, by Charlotte Underwood
After Suicide is Charlotte’s personal account of her father’s suicide, including before and after the event. This books main purpose is to be a support aid for people in a similar situation, or people wanting to understand more about the effect suicide has, it is not however meant to be a replacement for your doctor’s recommendations. This book is help from someone that understands. Download the self-published E-Book here.
Visit the “Books” section of Charlotte Underwood’s Blog to learn more.
A huge thank you to Charlotte Underwood for sharing her story with me. I really appreciate it.