After years of battling to overcome negative feelings around her own body image, an Aberdeen teen is now hoping others will join her attempt to defeat the stigma around mental health.
Caitlin Tawse was diagnosed with scoliosis, a condition that causes the curvature of the spine, in 2016.
At 15, she was already struggling to cope with comments about her weight and the diagnosis – and the resulting surgery – plunged her into further despair.
She said: “When I was young I was a ‘chunky’ kid and I got a few hurtful comments in school about my weight.
“The word “fat” then became the most hurtful insult for me and it kind of got stuck in my head.
“Things got worse when I was diagnosed with scoliosis in 2016.
“As a 15-year-old old girl it was really hard to be told that I was deformed and needed major surgery which wouldn’t even totally correct the deformations.
“After my surgery I could barely walk longer than 10 minutes, and wasn’t allowed any sort of exercise for at least nine months.
“This paired with my comfort eating habits led to weight gain.
“I felt so low in myself already because I was in pain and felt so useless since I couldn’t really do anything myself, and then I felt even worse because I hated the way I looked.”
The 18-year-old, who is now studying psychology and business at Aberdeen University, said she still struggles with body image, but is trying to be more positive and remember that it is what is inside that counts.
Now, she is attempting to bring together people from all different professions, backgrounds and experiences to end the stigma of mental health.
Stigma around mental health stops people from talking about how they feel. However you do it, you can make a difference this #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. You could chat over a cuppa, talk on a walk, send a message on WhatsApp or get involved via social media. pic.twitter.com/KRL1c4SwOB
— See Me (@seemescotland) May 14, 2019
Ms Tawes, who runs an online blog about mental health, is hosting a Walk A Mile event at Aberdeen Beach, as part of a nationwide campaign by mental health charity See Me Scotland.
One of the main aims is to bring together professionals, carers and people with lived experience to walk together, to get to know each other and walk a mile in each other’s shoes.
During the walk she will collect anonymous conversation cards from participants which she will then send to See Me Scotland, “to show them the steps Aberdeen are taking to break the stigma around mental health.”
She added: “I think that Walk A Mile events promote kindness and being there for each other, and will show those struggling that people are there for them when they need it.
“Ending the stigma around mental health issues will massively help people to speak out about their struggles which is vital to winning their battle against mental health issues.”
The Walk a Mile event will be held on May 26 at Aberdeen Beach Boulevard.
Participants can meet at 11am at the Beach Leisure Centre, and walk a mile to Footdee.
The event page is available at https://www.facebook.com/events/843840935996349/
Mental Health Aberdeen
As well as walking a mile, Miss Tawse also has plans to run 26 of them.
For the past three years she has benefited from ACIS Youth, a counselling service co-ordinated by charity Mental Health Aberdeen (MHA).
She said: “I really don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for ACIS Youth.
“My counsellor is so flexible so it’s whenever I want and need the support- it’s there.
“Currently I see them every two weeks, but I also have a contact e-mail which I’ve used on occasion if I’m struggling with something in particular.
“I feel this support has been exactly what I need, it’s there when I need it but it’s also on a regular basis so that I don’t build things up and I can sort of “release” every two weeks.”
As a result, she decided to give back to MHA and raise as much money, and awareness, this July, and run her own marathon-style distance across the globe.
She added: “I am limited in what I can do in terms of physical exercise due to my previous spinal surgery, so this seemed the perfect way to challenge myself while raising money for a charity who depends on it.
“I feel that they should receive as much as possible since they purely rely on donations and this service is essential in the city and the only way for them to keep providing it is through donations from people like myself and my supporters.”