Mental health. It’s the biggest elephant in the room; yet it’s something we all have. It may be positive. It may be negative. It may fluctuate; but 4 in 4 of us have it. 1 in 4 of us suffer with mental ill health. It doesn’t mean we’re weak, or pathetic, or selfish. I would actually say that I’ve grown into a stronger and more resilient person since I have accepted my illness.

It’s never easy telling someone about your mental health; at times, it can be a struggle to understand it yourself. It’s never easy trying to explain the heavy feeling in your chest, the lack of motivation you have, the heavy head, and the whirlwind of negative thoughts sitting in the back of your mind. I grew up into a loving, close-knit family; I went on wonderful holidays, I had some amazing friends and I did well at school… Mental health, however, does not discriminate. I suffered in silence for too long, because I didn’t know that ‘it’s OK not to be OK’. I was distant, shut off from the world, a shadow of my former self.

Grace was a beautiful, unwaveringly compassionate, hilarious person; the life and soul of the party, with an infectious giggle. She cared deeply for her friends, adored her family, and her gorgeous pup, Dora. Grace suffered with her mental health for a long time, although the stigma she felt about her illness, was such that many people didn’t know.

It’s only in the last couple of years, with a wealth of treatment and therapy behind me, that I have begun to speak openly about my mental illness. It’s not something I am ashamed of anymore. I’ve learned that my struggle, pain, and tears are not a sign of weakness or of failure, that vulnerability is instead a sign of strength and bravery.

So, it’s time to break down the stigma, open doors and show young people that ‘it’s OK not to be OK’. That’s where the wonderful work of the Grace Dear Trust comes in – and it makes me smile to witness the growth of the charity, not least because Grace would be so, so proud. I am excited to be on board; together, we will empower young people, challenge shame and stigma, and most importantly, reinforce that there is hope; there are calmer days ahead.

Fly free, Gracie. You’re the angel on my shoulder – today and every day. Shine bright.