At the age of fifteen I stopped attending school; I became mentally unwell and was admitted to an adolescent psychiatric unit to receive treatment for an episode of psychosis.
Not long after my sixteenth birthday I was discharged from hospital, and had to face the “big wide world”. In some ways, leaving a supported hospital environment was far more of a difficult path; I had very few friends, and no qualifications.
Despite on-going mental health problems, I had a longing to ‘change something for the good’. I started to satisfy this by volunteering, which was a fantastic medium to build my confidence and gain life experience.
I then began researching politics, I eventually made the choice to join the Labour Party and started to actively volunteer with them.
Whilst still undergoing intensive psychotherapy, I managed to get an Apprenticeship with a local training provider. The company I worked for were more than supportive of my needs, and I began to slowly come out of my shell.
Mid-apprenticeship, and after encouragement from a friend, I put myself forward to be selected for a council seat in Basildon. I was adamant I would only put myself forward for the ward I lived in which was Nethermayne, and I was selected. Nethermayne had been a Liberal Democrat stronghold for twenty years and honestly speaking I don’t think many people (including myself) expected the result that followed the election.
It is important for me to go into everything with the attitude that no matter what, if I go for something, I put my whole effort into it. In May 2011, at 18, I won an election and became one of the youngest councillors in the country. I was still living with my parents and still under the care of the community mental health team. It took me a while to be open and proud about what I had achieved.
I chose to finish my apprenticeship after attaining a Level 2 Intermediate Business & Administration qualification, because I knew being a councillor would be a shock to the system. I was right.
My first year of being a councillor was extremely difficult, I was battling with my mental health problems and adapting to a very different environment. Looking back I am very surprised but also very pleased that I did not resign.
Towards the end of my second year I started becoming more and more comfortable with my role. I became more vocal in council meetings, and began to champion causes I felt passionate about.
The turning point for me was being able to embrace my experience of having mental health problems, and being a young person. I began to understand how powerful speaking from the heart was, and I used my own lived experiences to put forward arguments and challenge decisions.
Being a young councillor throws up a number of challenges, there is a high amount of subtle ageism and often it is not intentional. After all, twenty year olds are meant to be out all night drinking, not scrutinising the grass and hedge pruning service level agreement.
To conclude the experience, skills and knowledge gained whilst being a local councillor will serve me incredibly well. For me personally, being a local councillor has assisted in my recovery from mental illness. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing I have made a positive difference to someone else’s world, no matter how small. Being “the youngest” is incredibly difficult, but in this instance, it is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.