Recently we had the total pleasure of interviewing a real champion in the world of mental health advocacy, business and all round inspiring voice!
Jake took a wonderfully brave step into the arena of helping others after speaking out about his own lived experience of mental illness. It’s quite one thing to reach out for help yourself and navigate the hellishly bumpy road of mental illness, but quite another to decide to do something about it for others. For that alone, we salute you Mr Mills!
Read on to find out about Jake’s journey, setting up the national charity Chasing the Stigma, signposting app Hub of Hope and what inspires and motivates Jake every day…
Hi Jake! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Jake Mills. When I do introductions, I usually call myself a comedian first but, in all honesty, I’m more known for my work as mental health campaigner than I ever have been known for my comedy – which is both great and tragic in equal measures! My background is in stand-up comedy, which I started on stage at the age of 17 and led to be becoming a professional comedian travelling clubs across the country. I still perform now but my day job is running a national mental health charity that I founded called Chasing the Stigma.
Your entry into the world of mental health advocacy was a personal one, can you tell us what led and inspired you to create Chasing the Stigma charity?
I would describe the past 5 years of my life as an accidental journey, which began with a suicide attempt and ended (although it isn’t the end yet!) with me being CEO of a national mental health charity I founded, Chasing the Stigma. It has been a bit of a whirlwind in all honesty and something I never planned but after speaking publicly about my experiences of depression and a suicide attempt in 2014, my story went viral. As a result, I was approached by thousands of people who were all asking for help. I quickly realised I had to act, it wasn’t about sharing my story and leaving, I had a responsibility to help others. I saw the injustice of people suffering needlessly and I couldn’t just do nothing, so I created Chasing the Stigma and then the Hub of Hope, the UK’s biggest most comprehensive mental health signposting tool.
What does the term ‘mental health’ mean to you?
A pet hate of mine is how people use mental health as a word to describe mental illness. “Oh, a friend of mine had ‘mental health’”, FFS Jean, everyone does!
Mental health is and should be seen as a good thing, an aspirational thing. That is the only way we will make a change. It is going to be a lot easier to look after our mental health, be aware of mental illness and seek help and support if we are talking about mental health on a daily basis, not just when it is bad.
How did Hub of Hope come about?
After my story went viral, so many people came to me asking for help. People from all over the country, strangers mostly but a lot of the time people I knew and in all honestly, I had no idea how to help or where to signpost to. After not a lot of research, I realised this is not uncommon. In 2017, almost ¾ of the people who died by suicide were not known to mental health services or had not been seen in more than a year. That is, quite simply, horrific. Finding help and support for your mental health should be second nature but it is not. That is what we wanted to change.
Hub of Hope is a forward-thinking tech app showcasing the many positive influences and creations of technology, where do you see the future between tech and mental health/wellbeing?
Tech is part of our day-to-day lives and is not something that we should fear. We have to be bringing all parts of life along for the ride otherwise we are in danger of things being left behind. We know that stigma plays a significant role in preventing people from seeking help or talking about mental health, we know that isolation and loneliness are key too but we can engage technology to break those borders, to get access to people when they are isolated, or a message of hope to somebody who can’t face getting out of bed for another day. The opportunities are unlimited and can be absolutely transformational.
What do you think is key to help reduce stigma and encourage more people to talk about their mental health / ill health?
Talking about health when it is good! If we wait and wait and wait until things are bad or at crisis and then start the conversation, it is going to be so much harder. Education is key. We all have mental health but none of us, generally, know anywhere near enough about it. We have to stop ‘mental health’ being a bad word. At Chasing the Stigma, we developed an accredited training programme called Ambassadors of Hope, which is just 20 minutes, but acts as a way to equip with a baseline level of understanding of mental health and signposting to create an environment of understanding to make talking and decisions about seeking support much, much easier.
Tell us something that you love about yourself!
This is something I feel uncomfortable about. I am bad at compliments from other people, never mind myself. I’d much rather someone slagged me off than said something nice! I suppose I like that I can be tenacious, some would call it stubborn, in fact, let’s just say that. I am stubborn. I don’t like to be told what I can and can’t do, especially when I know something is right. In all honesty, it is that stubbornness that the Hub of Hope is a thing. I was told it couldn’t be, so, I had to prove people wrong!
How do you support your own mental health day to day? Any top tips for wellbeing?
Cut-offs with work are a huge thing. When I started this type of work, it took over my life, I would be working until all hours and it cut into family time. I have a 3-year-old son and a baby on the way. I don’t want to be working all day and night and so I have been strict with that which has helped. Similarly, if I am away from home for work, I take time when back to have a day of playing or a day out, etc. I like to run too. I don’t actually like running I should add, but I like the headspace. I can’t be on the phone or distracted. I don’t even think. I just cut off and that’s rare.
What does the term ‘recovery’ mean to you?
Probably being aware. You shouldn’t have to go through something to understand but the reality is that is often the case. Recovery to me means knowing and understanding what you have been through, the feelings, the signs, the symptoms, and all the things to be aware of. That will be the biggest part of moving on and ‘recovering’.
In relation to your own mental health, what is your biggest life lesson so far?
Don’t be a martyr! If you need help, ask for help. If you are struggling, that is ok. If you can’t do something, that’s fine! You can’t be everything to everyone and that includes yourself. So often we set our own standards and limits and will fight against them constantly. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Here at SkillBase, we work primarily within workplaces, delivering Mental Health First Aid and awareness courses. What do you think we can be doing in our workplaces to support mental health more?
Become Ambassadors of Hope! Joking (not joking)! I strongly believe that every single person should have at the very least a baseline level of understanding and that mental health is ingrained into the day-to-day life of an organisation. The onus shouldn’t be on the person struggling to come forward.
What has been your biggest achievement to date and why are you proud of it?
Without a shred of a doubt, my family. My wife, my son and my baby on the way. Not that I would claim them my successes, they are incredible people in their own right, but they are the people I look at every single day and feel pride for. They keep me going and are the reason I do everything I do. I very nearly didn’t have them, and 5 years ago the idea of having a family, a wife, children, seemed impossible.
Who inspires you?
I have loads of idols in the music world, like Bowie and Springsteen, I always think their lyrics were written specifically for me, like it’s so weird, I wasn’t even born when they wrote this but THEY KNEW.
But in all honesty, and as corny as it is, my son and my wife inspire me every single day. I’m smiling just thinking of them, which says it all.
Finally, what is on the horizon for you and your work with Chasing the Stigma and Hub of Hope?
I don’t know what lays ahead but I do know I can’t wait to find out. We have plans, of course, building on the work we have done to make everything bigger and better, as well as rolling the Ambassador of Hope training across the country but I also know there will be things we haven’t even thought of yet and that excites me.
What I do know is that we will always continue to be a voice of the people. We want to be a platform for those who don’t necessarily have their voices heard. We want to be advocates for those with lived experiences and the people on the ground.
Bonus Question! Evidence suggests that affirmations can help people with their own wellbeing… What do you think is a great positive affirmation that you might use daily?
My wife is a massive believer in affirmations and is a great example of how they can have huge, positive impacts on your mental wellbeing. Personally speaking, I think an affirmation I would use on a daily basis would be ‘There are no failures, just opportunities to learn.’
Huge thank you to the wonderful and inspiring Jake Mills for taking the time out to talk to us, we want to wish him all the best with the new baby on route!
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