After many years of wanting to work within the Mental Health field, in September 2018, I finally enrolled at the University of Leeds, to study Mental Health Nursing. As I have been coming up to the end of my first year, I have been feeling more passionate than ever about wanting to raise as much awareness as possible around mental health and to raise money for a charity that I hold close to my heart… – so I could really end this academic year with a *BANG* !!! I sadly had to give up my position as a listening volunteer on the crisis hotlines with the Samaritans due to my study commitments, however this spurred me on to continue supporting them and to help make a difference in other ways. I am such an advocate for the Samaritans after volunteering with the them, as it really opened my eyes to the incredible support they offer. They will;

 “never tell you what to do, they are there to listen, with no judgement, no pressure, and they will help you work through what’s on your mind, for anyone who needs someone, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. If you need any kind of emotional support, call or text them free from any phone 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org”. (https://www.samaritans.org/).

So, this is the exact message that I wanted to promote;

 “You don’t need to fight any battle alone – someone is ALWAYS there to support you while you’re fighting whatever battle you’re up against”… especially when you think that they’re not.

Around 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem, yet the shame and silence can be as bad as the mental health problem itself – so it is so important to raise this awareness and for us to break this stigma. Since learning about mental health more and more at University, this is the message that I want people who are suffering with their mental health to hear, because we are always stronger together. I want to give a voice and fight the fight for the people who are struggling.

As mental health is not always something that you can see, this is something that I wanted to visibly portray as part of my campaign with images, to strengthen my message. Just because it can’t be seen,doesn’t mean that it’s not there, or that someone isn’t struggling. Someone with a mental illness can lead a full life, BUT may hide their suffering behind a mask and pretend that everything is okay. The photoshoot was done with help from two of my peers. The images of me with half of my face representing someone who on the surface appears well, and the other half of my face with hard hitting mental health messages; “depression, anxiety, panic, manic, suicidal, anger, trauma, low, self harm, shame and stigma”,  represent what may actually lie beneath. My campaign photos led to, my donations  doubling in less than half a day. My target was to raise £300, I am so grateful for all the donations and moral support that I have received throughout my journey; and I have raised 375% of target, which is currently at over £1300 for the Samaritans Leeds.

So to completely push myself out my comfort zone, to give myself a challenge where I would need to use every strength and courage to deliver this message, I signed up to do a Charity Boxing Fight with White Collar Fighter (https://www.whitecollarfighter.com). I committed myself to an 8-week training camp, set up a fundraising page in the hope that the more support and sponsors I received, the more it would encourage me to train harder, and make it more worthwhile going black and blue on my Fight Night. My fight took place on 3rd August, 2019 at the John Charles Centre, Leeds. I had never done anything like this before, no combat sports, no fighting, I had never punched anyone or anything before in my life, so getting in a boxing ring to fight a real human opponent was a real scary challenge for me, but a perfect way to raise some money.

With my boxing journey now over, days later, I may have come out the other side in one piece, but I still haven’t quite processed everything, and I am still shaken up and emotional from it all. I genuinely never prepared myself for how mentally challenging this journey would be for me, and I don’t think that anything can EVER prepare you enough for that fight. Admittedly, I never anticipated the intensity of getting into that ring, literally being face on with your fear… and hand on heart, just how important it really was to have all that support around me – to remind me that even though it was just me and my opponent in that ring, that at no point was I ever fighting my battle alone. I think that’s why I am still so overwhelmed, because I can’t quite believe the amount of moral support I have had, from my incredible family and friends, but even from total strangers, it has been truly amazing.

After round 2, I was ready to give up, I was struggling to keep myself going , but my coach was right when he said to remember “why” I was doing it, what I was doing it all for; and hearing the support from my family and friends cheering me on at the ringside also really kept me going. It was undoubtedly the hardest 6 minutes of my life, and the most overwhelming feeling isn’t that I won my fight – it’s being reminded that there are unbelievable people who have always got my back, and there will always be someone who has got yours. Thank you to everyone who was fighting with me. You never know what someone is going through, or what lies beneath – so always be there for others, because we are stronger together. And be kind, especially to yourself.

If you would still like to donate, please check out my page: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SarahDesjardins.

#mentalhealthawareness#mentalhealth#mentalhealthadvocate#mentalhealthstudentnurse#breakthestigma#samaritans#keepfighting#endthesilence#support#courage#mentalwellness#strongertogether

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