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Interview

Hélène Daval.

Hi! My name’s Hélène, and I am an 18 years-old psychology student in Brussels. I spent 6 months in a mental health facility & after discovering different traumas, experiencing severe attacks and understanding better how I function, I realized social medias & society in general are really silent about everything that has to do with mental health and a lot of people are not aware of the various illnesses and have no idea how to spot one of help someone who’s suffering. The different stereotypes around mental health conditions also made me crazy so I decided to openly talk about my journey & do my best to help anyone who’s struggling. Sorry, that was a long presentation ahah, but beside this, I love animals, I love reading, meditating, writing & something I don’t like doing is cooking. 

I see that you’re a psychology student. How has learning psychology affected you on a daily basis? Do you think psychology or related courses should be mandatory to take at schools, no matter what field you want to go into?

Learning psychology helped me understand how human beings function, how our brains function & how some actions can have specific consequences that we wouldn’t even think of at first. This is my first year so I wouldn’t be able to formulate an extended & complete answer, but I definitely find it fascinating & I really think psychology should be mandatory, no matter what field you want to go into. I always use the example of teachers, because during my high school years, I happened to have horrible teachers, some of whom traumatized me. During these years & today even more, I always thought all teachers should have some sort of psychology in their studies. And I think this can be applied to every job, every study in general. For me, psychology is the study of humans behaviors, taking into account their past, their environment, their feelings and much more. Whether it’s at school, at home or at work, human beings are the center of attention – it is because they are here that the job can be done for example. So not taking care & not taking into account how they feel, what they think, how they function, is for me completely absurd. To do is, to be able to understand & pay attention, you have to know the basis of psychology. 

Besides mental health, what other global issues are you passionate about? How can we, as a community, help combat said conflicts?

Besides being a mental health advocate, I am an animal rights activist & a feminist. I believe every living being is equal, therefore, animal exploitation, slaughterhouses and other horrible things we, human beings, are capable of make me sick and more importantly make me angry. They are things I don’t want to see on Earth and I don’t want to have to deal with in my life. Moreover, I don’t understand how in 2021 we still have to fight for women’s rights, for equal pay checks, we still have to fight rape culture, catcalling and other disgusting things. How can we help? Honestly, sometimes, it is a question I am not able to answer – because I feel like we are doing so much and nothing is changing. But that is not true. Things are changing, slowly but surely, so no matter how hard and pointless we think what we are doing is, let’s not stop it. Let’s continue sending emails to politics, let’s continue manifesting, let’s continue sharing on social media, let’s continue talking to people & raising awareness. There are a thousand ways of fighting for what you think is right – every way is a good way, so let’s not stop, because we are still far away from equality, respected women’s rights, human rights & living beings’s rights in general. 

I saw your feature on BRB Panic Attack’s “Speak Out” series, in which you opened up about your battle with your own mental health. If comfortable, could you tell us a little about that?

Sure! As I said earlier, I spent 6 months in a psychiatric hospital, battling depression, anxiety disorder, PTSD, distorted eating & suicidal thoughts. At first, I did not really understand what was going on, I was refusing help, having my anxiety & PTSD attacks alone in my room, did not talk to anyone and the first months were really hard. On the 9th of August, at 5 am I attempted suicide & was sent to a different hospital. This hospital stay was an absolute nightmare & it made me realize how lucky I was to have people ready to help me in the other hospital, people who wanted me to feel better & were ready to spend some time with me to help me understand & cope with what I was going through. Long story short, after six months, after meeting the bravest people ever, fighting every day for their lives, I left the hospital on the 9th of December & I am now home. If you want to learn more about my journey, I invite you to read my story on BRB Panic Attack’s “Speak out” series which you can find in my “Speak up” highlight. 

What would you say to someone who is going through something similar to what you went through?

That’s a hard one. I think my best advice is to get the help you need when you need it. Reach out. Talk about it. Life is hard, it has lots of ups and downs but if you keep everything to  yourself, you are going to explode. You are allowed to ask for help, you are allowed to walk away from things that don’t make you feel good anymore. You are allowed to feel differently from your friends, relatives or neighbours. The thing I have to remind myself of often is not to compare traumas. I used to think “he has it worse than me, I shouldn’t be feeling bad” or “I can’t feel bad, she has it worse, I am such a bad person for feeling like I feel”. But the thing is honey, someone who drowns in 7 meters of water is as dead as someone who drowns in 20 meters of water, so give yourself a break! You are allowed to feel whatever feelings you feel & please, don’t wait until it is unbearable to seek help. You are important, loved & this world is better because you are in it. Seating with your feelings & talking about them may be a horrible thing to do, but in a week, a month, a year, you’ll thank yourself for being so brave & doing it.  

How has the pandemic affected you mentally? What things did you learn about yourself during the course of this pandemic that you didn’t know before?

The pandemic has affected me a lot. At first, I was happy that everything was online because it meant I had to ‘just’ deal with ‘family issues’ and not ‘school issues’ anymore. But as it continued, being stuck at home increased my depression and I couldn’t take it anymore. I think I learned to set limits. I learned to listen to myself, to my needs, to red flags and more. Before the pandemic school used up all of my energy so I didn’t have enough to really socialize so I thought I could live without it. The pandemic taught me that a social life is essential to a well-balanced life. I learned to be kinder to myself, to practice positive self-talk and most of all, I learned that if I want to help people in all kinds of ways, I have to allow myself to be helped.

What do you believe are the most beautiful things in or about life? 

I think one of the most beautiful things in life is Nature’s gifts. Snow, flowers, butterflies, sun, seas, forests. Another one is kindness and solidarity between people. I always find it beautiful when a group of strangers come together to help someone they know nothing about. Something else I find beautiful about life is how you can literally do anything you want with it. Life is a book and you are the writer. At every point, you can decide to change your writing style or start a whole different story. You are the boss of your life. 

Why do you think prioritizing mental health is so important, especially for youth?

I think society today is very tough. I think the expectations are way too high, the standards of beauty are, for the most part, inaccessible and with social media our personalities and beliefs are even more tested than those of previous generations. I think our generation was forced to say out loud what previous generations chose to keep silent. Therefore, we are much more exposed than them. Everything we do is criticized, our thoughts and beliefs are constantly questioned and all of this, of course, affects our mental health, which is why prioritizing mental health is so important. The relationship we have with ourselves is the most important, but it is also the one that society criticizes the most and the one we struggle with the most. Our generation faces and talks about problems. This is the difference between us and previous generations. I think previous generations didn’t question mental health issues or conditions, they didn’t allow themselves to talk about it. We do. We allow ourselves and that’s such a good thing. But with everything we say, criticism follows and that’s what we need to protect ourselves from.

Who have been your biggest role-models or resources in times of unsureness, grief, and healing? 

I think my biggest role-models were some of the nurses and educators I’ve met in the hospital I was in. Some people that helped me get through hard moments on instagram are @ssedonaa, a brave warrior, @danaemercer, a journalist and a body positive promoter, @smash.the.stigma, a mental health advocate, @jameelajamilofficial, an amazing woman & my amazing friends who’ll recognize themselves. The way I copped a lot and worked (still something I do today) is the following one: whenever I would feel bad and really down, I say it, I make an Instagram story for example, and I encourage people to speak about how they feel. Transparency is my keyword.

What does mental health mean to YOU?

 I think mental health means everything I’ve said. Mental health is as important as physical health, and yet, it is not recognized as so. Taking care of your mental health is as important as taking care of your physical health. Going to therapy should be normalized and asking for help when you feel overwhelmed too. Your mental health is unique. No one experiences things the same way you do. In the same way that two people who have experienced the same thing do not heal in the same way.  You can have a very good physical health, but if your mental health doesn’t follow, your physical health won’t save you. 

Is there anything else you would like Revive’s audience to know about you?

I took part in various campaigns such as @letsbreaktheshame, @whyididntreport or @iweigh. Everything is in my highlight “speak up” on my instagram. Don’t hesitate to check it out! 

Thank you for reading xx 🙂 


Check out Hélène!

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