Are You Ready to Stand Up and Speak Out?

Storytelling is a great way to break down stigma. If you’re thinking of encouraging storytelling as part of your Mental Health Awareness Week activities this year, take a look at Jo Emmerson’s tips.


Speakers Collective members are experienced in sharing their mental health stories within a range of settings from corporate, statutory services, the NHS, educational establishments and charities. They do that, with a wealth of experience and knowledge, they do it because they want to share with others how they overcame their challenges and to help people know they are not alone. We know that never has there been a more important time to be part of a community, to make connections and to speak out to end stigma.

We came together in 2018, to provide a network of support for those who speak on a variety of social issues, working together, training and sharing good practice. We are committed to ensuring those who speak via us are quality assured, peer reviewed and sign up to our pledge which aligns to our values of Integrity and honesty, compassion for ourselves and others, mutual respect and support, collaboration, professionalism and hope.

Using learning from our own lived experience members, we have developed our ‘Stand-up/Speak-Out’ programme which supports employees, who wish to, to share their mental health stories at forums and events within their own workplace. This is particularly important as we approach Mental Health Awareness Week.

Here are a few things to think about when you stand up and speak out:

Before you start:

  • Make sure you are ready to share to a wider audience, understand the implications of doing so, although we all work hard to overcome stigma, be aware that it is still out there and may affect how colleagues treat you going forward, positively and negatively.
  • People talk, so make sure you inform those closest to you of your intentions.
  • Do your homework – for example know what in-house support is available, what are the names of your Mental Health First Aiders? Who would you direct people to for support?

When you speak:

  • Prepare carefully, think about what you are going to say and above all the positive messages and tips you want your audience to take away. Be clear that you are only speaking from lived experience.
  • Introduce your speech by explaining that some people may find it upsetting (triggering) and give people permission to leave the room or switch off. Be sensitive in your choice of language, don’t aim to shock and should you be talking about suicide or self-harm for example don’t use graphic descriptions.
  • End your presentation with a slide that signposts people to good quality and balanced support, this may be to a charity that deals with your theme, include The Hub of Hope, the Samaritans, Calm and Shout. Leave this slide up for long enough for people to write down the numbers.

When it’s over:

  • It’s important to recognise the good work you have done and your own feelings around this, we recommend that you arrange a de-brief, speak to people who were there.
  • Be prepared to field questions and emails from colleagues and know who in your organisation you should direct people to.
  • We do it every day and know it can be hard, so don’t forget your self-care.
  • Lastly, be proud of yourself and don’t underestimate the power of your actions and the impact you will make, in helping people understand that we all have mental health but sometimes we all struggle.

Just like Make A Difference, Speakers Collective our strap-line is conversations that make a difference. We know that it is only by speaking out and working together that we will challenge stigma. There is no right or wrong way to tell your story, remember it is yours to tell. We wish you luck in doing so.

About the author

Jo Emmerson is Founder Director of Speakers Collective.


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