Whizz Kidz ambassador, Josh Rosenthal,discusses the importance of looking after your mental health and how support from Whizz-Kidz has allowed him to go outside of his comfort zone which has helped his mental well-being.
I remember sitting in the car one morning outside school. My palms were sweating, my heart was racing and I could think of nothing worse than going inside. I was running a few minutes late and I knew that I was going to be put in detention…again.
Although my teachers could see that I had a physical disability and that I was a wheelchair user, it didn’t help to change their attitude towards my running late on a morning, even when more often than not the reasons were because of my disability and make it out of my control. It was extremely hard to face and felt like I was being punished for something that I had no control over.
My anxiety was with me every day and many days rather than going in and being told off, I just wanted my mum turn the car around and go back home. It is only with hindsight that I can see how much this impacted my mental health and then how this building anxiety only added to my lateness.
It was part of an ongoing cycle that I didn’t yet have the awareness to understand nor know how to communicate what I was experiencing to my teachers or those around me. At that point none of us were even able to identify it as anxiety so we weren’t able to explain it to the school. Therefore it went largely unnoticed and I continued to be put in detention. I have the feeling that even if I was able to talk about my anxiety, it wouldn’t have made much difference.
Today is World Mental Health Day and around 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year. These numbers are staggering and yet we still continue to give more weight to physical health than we do to mental health. As a wheelchair user, I see this every day. I am often asked about my physical health, but rarely am I asked about my mental health. Anxiety has the capability to be just as debilitating as a physical illness so I wonder why we don’t treat it as seriously.
This is apparent not only in the stigmas still associated with speaking out about mental health issues but also the way in which people are treated when they do ask for help. I know of friends, who have asked for help and still haven’t received it. One, who was a good friend, who was experiencing severe mental health issues, so they were referred to the NHS, but they wouldn’t look at the case, as they thought that they were only doing it for attention.
Another friend, who is also a young wheelchair user, was experiencing issues and referred to their local mental health services but they didn’t even get to be seen by a doctor. Luckily, they had a good enough support network around them to overcome it without medical help, but why would anyone speak out when this is the response they receive?
It is only now that I am able to see that, drawing from my own experiences and that of my friends that children and young people are in danger of being made to feel as if their mental health doesn’t matter. This can have a hugely damaging effect and possibly something that they carry with them for the rest of their lives. People must be made to feel from an early age that they can ask for help and that they will get it. This is especially important for children and young people, as left untreated, the effects could potentially go on for much longer into adulthood.
I still struggle with anxiety but, thankfully, I now know what it is and how to deal with it. That is largely from good support from my close friends, family and organisations like disabled children and young people’s charity Whizz-Kidz, who gave me confidence and encouraged me to speak up to ask for what I need.
Prior to going along to the Whizz-Kidz Ambassador Clubs, as a young wheelchair user, there were often times when I didn’t know how to communicate what I needed. Isolation was also an issue for me because I wouldn’t be able to do the things that my friends were doing. Looking back this almost certainly affected my sense of inclusion within my friendship group.
Being able to make friends in other young wheelchair users allowed me to do things that we could all do together and share experiences with people who I could relate to. This helped my mental health immensely and also gave me some perspective on my previous experiences.
It has also only been since I got involved with Whizz-Kidz, that I felt comfortable enough to try and overcome my anxiety and go outside of my comfort zone to do things that I would never have done before, including reaching the top of the wall when rock climbing at Whizz-Kidz Camp, which is funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. This was a huge achievement for me considering that I have a lot of anxiety around feeling safe.
Today, I sit on the Whizz-Kidz Kidz Board, where I work to ensure that issues that young wheelchair users are facing like mental health are brought to the attention of the right people. I also recently applied to University, where I will be studying for my degree in Health & Social Care and I hope to one day work as a professional advocate.
Anxiety can make things more challenging but it shouldn’t have to get in the way of your life. Having a good support network is vital and remember, if you are experiencing anxiety or any other mental health issue, help is out there. Speak up and ask for it. You aren’t alone.
Whizz-Kidz has been supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery since 2013 and, to date, they have generously awarded nearly one million pounds to support the charity’s work. Whizz-Kidz provides disabled children and young people with vital mobility equipment, opportunities to meet and have fun, and training to help them gain skills and look forward to a brighter future.