While mental health as a whole is becoming a more widely discussed subject, certain topics are not as openly acknowledged. Self-harm, for example, affects approximately 17% of the world’s population, however it is often considered a taboo subject. Thankfully, there are individuals, such as Scott Shrubsole, who use their first-hand experiences to educate and spread awareness about self-harm. Scott is the creator of Youth Potential, a project aimed at supporting young people through their struggles with self-harm, among a myriad of other mental health challenges and disorders. He is also the author of “Self-Harm to Self-Harmony: A Personal Journey of Overcoming Self-Harm,” in which he provides insight into the life of someone who is struggling with self-harm. We asked Scott four questions this week about his journey. Take some time to read his thoughtful responses.
Your focus of helping young people in their mental health sets you apart from many in this community – why is this important to you?
I created Youth Potential in my early twenties and back then I created it for younger people (under twenty-five) but now the word “Youth” has a much broader definition. Young in mind, soul or body. Saying that, I try to be myself and that seems to appeal to people from a range of age groups. I’m grateful that my work connects with younger people because most younger people haven’t been experiencing mental illness as long as, for example, people of my age (thirty), so I really want to share my experiences in how I live comfortably with my health conditions: borderline personality disorder, autism, depression and anxiety.
Your videos and posts speak to a voice that is highly emotionally attuned and compassionate – how has this been your super-power helping you reach people with your work?
That’s an interesting way of describing my delivery. As I said in my previous answer, I try to be myself. I know it sounds cliché but it’s all I can say. I spend a lot of time analysing my thoughts and behaviours and with so many years of personal experience with mental illness, I find it easy to break everything down. Being autistic it can take a bit of time for me to process something accurately so putting things into simple terms for others also helps me understand everything better. I’m still learning as I go along.
In this age of information everywhere, what do you believe young people are still needing to hear or see or experience to help them with their mental health?
This is a great question and honestly, I speak about things which are often disregarded or too sensitive to discuss. Being realistic keeps my output in balance. I don’t want to come across so positively and make it seem easy to live with [mental illness]. Also, I don’t want to come across so negative that I seem like I’m promoting poor mental health. Since 2005, when I first started to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, awareness for mental illness has grown, which is great, but social media is a double-edged sword. So many people use it to connect with others and again this has two big issue: some people use it to “glamorise” their struggles and others rely too much on these platforms. On the other hand, social media is a great way to learn about different mental health conditions, make friends and just have fun.
The other thing, without a doubt, is that the concept of “recovery” appears to mislead nearly everyone that I speak to. To me, it’s an abstract concept and generally people have this misconception of it: it’s a destination wherein you’re always happy and safe. I used to believe this too. I spent so many years trying to find the answers to my most profound questions and I personally believe that “recovery,” not that I call it that, is not a destination but a lifestyle. Our mental health will be around for as long as we are alive but treat it like something that needs to be fixed. Mental health has to be maintained indefinitely. If we change our understanding of what recovery means and start to live in the moment, then it can make a life-changing difference. I know it has for me.
Has there been a crucial self-awareness which you believe underpins your journey from self-harm to self-harmony?
Yes, of course. In addition to what I’ve previously said with regards to recovery, I think it’s important to be aware of your thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Acceptance of who you are needs to be dealt with first before you can even think about getting yourself to a more realistic but stable mindset. Then comes daily goals, which can then be turned into yearly goals. Keeping busy is a large chunk of what helps us stay distracted and purpose gives our life vitality. Also, we feel more in control of lives when we decide how our time is spent. To top it all off, we need to feel a sense of accomplishment on a regular basis; this helps counterbalance all of the struggles we face daily. Like I said, I don’t want to sell anyone the idea that it’s easy to reach this more harmonious place that I’m in. I still struggle on a regular basis, but I’ve accepted my conditions, my mistakes and my experiences.