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Fighting the stigma through fashion
Friday 19th January, 2018

Matthew Peet found strength in fashion and design after his mental health began affecting his daily life.

In 2015, Matthew, 28, from Wigan, was diagnosed with depression after being plagued with feelings of uselessness, negativity and suicidal thoughts leading to social isolation and not wanting to go on.

After seeking help, Matthew now wants to help others on their journey. In 2017, he kick-started new clothing brand ‘Behind a Smile’, which explores the stigma attached to mental illness and the people who are affected by it.

Matthew is also backing the local #TogetherWeCan campaign, which has been developed by Wigan Council in partnership with local health providers, addressing a range of life events and triggers that can be difficult times for people.

He said: “I want people to know that there doesn’t always have to be a big event in your life that can change your mental health. For me, there wasn’t any one thing in particular; it was just a build-up of things that I didn’t know how to manage and eventually it took its toll.

“Before Behind a Smile I was writing about my experience for Mental Movement, a London-based magazine who focus on how to maintain positive mental health. I found writing to be a great release but I wanted to help other people too, which is why I set up the clothing brand.”

Behind a Smile works with people who have lived experience of mental illness, people bereaved by suicide, individuals living with a mental illness, charities or anybody else who wants to raise awareness through creating collaborative designs either in memory of someone or to promote a cause.

Matthew also donates 100 per cent of Behind a Smile’s profits to local support services and charities such as ‘The Sanctuary’ and 'Chasing the Stigma.'

He continued: “We’ve had so many people come to us to remember loved ones or to raise awareness about a specific message and it really has proven to help people through some difficult times, which for me is the main reason I wanted to start BaS."

“The #TogetherWeCan campaign is a great example of how we should raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. I’m glad the council have been able to give me another platform to tell my story. My advice to others is, it’s not weak to find help, whatever form that may be!”

#TogetherWeCan aims to raise awareness about mental health and to remove the stigma attached by focusing on different ages and life events.

The campaign hopes to encourage people living with a mental illness or those who notice a dip in their mental health to seek help.

Professor Kate Ardern, director for public health at Wigan Council said: “Supporting our residents to maintain positive mental wellbeing and educating people on the difference between mental health and mental illness is a key priority for us.

“Although the stigma attached to mental illness is slowly being broken down, we can’t become complacent. We want to work together with health providers, volunteers and residents to make sure everybody knows that help is available on both a national and a local scale.

“You don’t need to have a diagnosis to access this help, if you need advice on how to manage stress or are going through a tough time, people are here to listen. You are not alone in your recovery journey. #TogetherWeCan get you through!”

For more information about the campaign, visit www.wigan.gov.uk/togetherwecan or to get involved, please email publichealth@wigan.gov.uk

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