1000 Voices will tell you that you’re not alone

Lindsay Riddoch has launched an internet campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues in young people

Lindsay Riddoch has launched an internet campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues in young people

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As her friend headed to the doctors’ surgery that day, Lindsay Riddoch knew she was using every ounce of courage she had to take the footsteps.

Through the door, she faced a long wait, her own tormenting thoughts for company, before finally taking a lonely seat in front of the medic to whom she would pour out her heart.

The teenage school girl knew she had problems. She’d told a few close friends as much, but admitting to the family GP that she was battling bulimia was one of the hardest things she had ever had to do.

“She really wanted help and had tried to fight the condition herself,” explains Lindsay. “Eventually she decided to tell the doctor everything, but he said there wasn’t really anything he could do.

“He said the NHS counselling waiting list was really long and that to go private she would need to be able to pay for it.

“The thing is, mental health isn’t like needing a hip operation – sometimes people just cannot wait for help.”

As the saying goes, she has an old head on young shoulders. Former Boroughmuir High School pupil Lindsay may only be 18 but when it comes to speaking up for others she is as articulate as she is determined.

That’s probably what attracted Stephen Fry to her fight to raise awareness of mental health in young people, the comedian – who has had personal experiences of the issue – agreeing to support her campaign by mentioning it through Twitter, prompting thousands of people to rush to her website to see what all the fuss was about.

She launched the 1000 Voices campaign last month, an emotive and powerful website that encourages people to share their experiences of mental health by posting their tales, or offering illustrations of how they are feeling. It’s a professional operation that few would know a teenager was behind, and already countless people from across the UK have used it as a tool to off-load their feelings, well aware that just the process of doing so may help them – as well as others going through similar experiences.

“It was actually my dad who said I should try to make contact with Stephen Fry,” smiles Lindsay, sipping on a cup of tea in her Morningside family home.

“So I emailed his agent and asked if he would like to Tweet about the website. I didn’t think he would do anything at all, I had no faith whatsoever, but the agent replied and said he would.

“Apparently, he was filming at the time but he Tweeted and then he got in touch with me to say he had looked at the site and was in support of what it was doing. It means so much to have him on board.

“His agent did ask whether the site could cope with the attention as Stephen Fry does have an ability to crash websites by mentioning them on Twitter. Thousands of people were on the site after he made that Tweet – and thankfully it didn’t crash.”

Lindsay’s drive to create the 1000 Voices website stemmed from the experiences of her friends who have battled mental ill health, many of whom she feels didn’t have the support that could have made a huge difference in their long road to recovery.

There is a personal reason too, the 18-year-old revealing that as a younger teenager she fought depression herself, but it’s not something she wishes to talk publicly about.

“The main reason for creating the website is because I have seen too many people who have developed mental health problems that have been made worse through a lack of support, either from teachers, doctors, friends or family,” she says.

“It makes the mental illness a lot more difficult than it has to be. I’ve known people who have tried to take their own lives and it is horrible to experience.”

And that is where she hopes 1000 Voices can help. Through the website people can share their experiences and hopefully take from that a sense of support and a realisation that they are not alone.

Others, including health professionals and politicians, may be spurred on to think how the services on offer across the country could be improved.

Lindsay, who later this month will take up a place at the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London to study politics and history, also hopes to display posters in schools and colleges across the country, directing people to the website and where they can get help.

That will be made possible through a £750 grant she was given by the board of governors at Atlantic College in Wales, where she has been studying for the International Baccalaureate since leaving Boroughmuir High School two years ago.

It was at the college that Lindsay worked with other students to develop 1000 Voices, concerned about the stigma surrounding mental health issues and the problems accessing the help needed.

She hopes one day, once a thousand submissions have been made to the campaign, to show them to the public in an exhibition to further promote her cause.

“I just want people to think about mental health and talk about it,” she says. “It’s an issue worth discussing. I know the Scottish Government has done stuff recently but I don’t think it’s high profile enough.

“I think for young people it is close to impossible to ask for help. You want to please your parents, so may not want to admit to them that something is wrong. You may not feel you can open up to a teacher and when it comes to doctors, a lot of young people don’t even know how to go about making an appointment.

“Most state schools don’t offer a counselling service, yet they do overseas in the likes of North America. Something like this could help a lot.

“I think the most important thing any of us can do though is to ask people if something is wrong, if we suspect it may be.

“You will never hurt someone by doing it. Just giving them a space to open up can help, but remember how scared they are and how much courage it may have taken to admit something isn’t right.

“It upsets me to think there are people going through this alone and hopefully we can make them see they are not alone. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

n Visit Lindsay’s 1000 Voices campaign website at www.1000voicescampaign.com

catherine.salmond@edinburghnews.com