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Dame Kelly Holmes praised for openness on self-harm and mental health

Dame Kelly Holmes, who won two gold medals at the Olympics in her athletics career, discussed her battles with depression in the latest edition of The Big Issue.
Dame Kelly Holmes, athlete and media personality. © Sarah Lee / Guardian / eyevine

Former Olympic athlete Dame Kelly Holmes has been praised for discussing her experience of depression, anxiety attacks and self-harm throughout her adult life.

Experts commented how honesty and openness from public figures can help other people seek support after Holmes talked about her own struggles.

“I had so many injuries and it led to depression, self-harm, a breakdown and anxiety attacks”, double-gold medallist Dame Holmes said. 

“People didn’t talk openly about mental health then, it was such a taboo subject. But it’s a hidden disability and that wasn’t something people articulated. 

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A recent study by the mental health charity Mind found that over a quarter (26%) of young women aged between 16–24 years old report having a common mental health problem in any given week.  This is compared to 17 per cent of adults.

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, told The Big Issue: “The most important thing is to speak to someone you trust, like a family member or friend as by talking about mental health we can help aid recovery, break down stereotypes and improve relationships.” 

Among the rising mental health problems affecting young people is self-harm.

An average of 10 children aged nine to twelve are admitted into hospital each week because of self-injury, according to a recent BBC investigation for File on 4. In this age group, self-harm admissions were twice as high for girls than for boys.

Holmes said the last time she self-harmed was the day her mother died three years ago. 

“I realised she wasn’t going to come back and help me, and that me self-harming wasn’t going to help bring her back or help me.

“It was awful. I suffered bereavement for a long time. It took a lot of time and talking to people, making sure my friends knew I needed them to be around”, she said. 

Professor Keith Hawton, one of the leading experts on self-harm in the UK, said that young women are particularly at risk of developing mental health problems.

“We also know that there’s been an increase in mental health problems in young people and there’s been a particular increase in anxiety disorders, particularly in females, and also eating disorders, which are quite closely associated with self-harm, including self-injury”, he told The Big issue.

Speaking to The Big Issue for the latest Letter To My Younger Self interview, Dame Kelly Holmes said she believed talking to people about mental health is important for recovery and that “believing in yourself is so powerful”.

“I would love to tell my younger self, when she was going through it that she would be OK. I’d tell her to talk to people. 

“It takes a lot to pluck up the courage to say I need help”, she said. 

The charity Mind said that celebrities have an important role to play in discussions surrounding mental health. 

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, told The Big Issue: “When celebrities, like Dame Kelly Holmes, speak out about their own mental health problems, it can actually help inspire others to do the same.

“In fact, our research found that 25 per cent of people said hearing a celebrity talk openly about their own mental health had inspired them to seek help or get support for themselves.

“In turn, over a third of those asked said seeing celebrity mental health stories had prompted them to start a conversation with a friend or loved one about mental health.

“This shows how the power of celebrity can serve as a real force for change for how we all think and act about mental health problems”.