How Scouting affected my anxiety
Until about 12 months ago, I kept my mental health issues to myself. I didn’t like talking about them because I was scared of being judged.
I joined Scouting as a quiet 11-year-old, just after moving to a secondary school where I knew virtually nobody. At Scouts I was a completely different person to the one I was at school. I was a confident, active member of the Troop who wanted to try everything and get to know everyone. I felt supported at Scouts and it became a place to escape my anxiety. At school I was quiet and avoided doing anything that made me stand out. I felt judged and like I didn’t belong.
At secondary school I started avoiding social situations because I felt so anxious. I soon stopped being invited and became aware that my friends were doing things without me. My parents noticed too and asked if everything was alright, but I just kept saying I was fine, that it wasn’t really my kind of thing.
Things got really bad at university. I was scared of leaving my room, of speaking to anyone. I could go from feeling happy to wanting to cry in seconds. I had no idea what was making me feel that way, which made it hard to explain to others. It was then that I realised something wasn’t right, and my Scouting friends did too, so they encouraged me to get help.
Mental health was a taboo subject when I was an 11-year-old, but I always felt safe to be myself at Scouts. Scouting welcomes all and judges no-one, which is something more people in society should be doing. More recently, seeing mental health and wellbeing chosen as one of the A Million Hands issues gave me the confidence to talk to others about my own experiences. Opening up to people has been a big help; I now know that there is always someone I can talk to. My Scouting friends understand and will always get me out, even when I think I don’t want to leave the house.
Camping, hiking, running and kayaking have all been key in helping me to manage my feelings. Scouting has given me a love of the outdoors and I think it’s the best place to escape anxiety and depression. Whether I’m concentrating on reading a map or simply admiring the scenery, being outdoors offers freedom, and a chance to relax and focus on something completely different.
By sharing my experiences as part of A Million Hands, I want to let others know that they aren’t alone, and to encourage them to speak out about their feelings. I’ve run some A Million Hands activities with my Group and it’s got the Scouts thinking more about how they can support each other.
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference, like those volunteers who make sure everyone feels involved. Often people suffering from mental health issues feel like they’re useless, so showing them they’re useful and valued helps. Above all, it’s great when people offer support, but don’t force the issue. Scouting has definitely helped my mental health. I’m no longer the quiet 11-year-old that I once was; I’m an Assistant County Commissioner supporting other young people. Mental health still isn’t easy to talk about, but sometimes just knowing someone is there is enough.
Read about how Scouting supports better mental wellbeing.