Student uses blog to fight mental health stigma

A JOURNALISM student hopes to break down some of the stigma surrounding mental illness with her final year project.

Victoria Aitchison, 26, originally from St Leonards, is committed to raising awareness of mental illness, particularly among young people, after battling with depression and anorexia.

Now going into her third year of a degree in Fashion Journalism at the London College of Fashion, she is using an online blog to reach out to people and research mental illness.

She said: “If I can help just one person not to go through what I went through, it will be worth it.”

Victoria, whose family home is in Turnberry Close, St Leonards, studied for an Art Diploma and Fashion and Design National Diploma at Hastings College, before beginning a course in Fashion Design at the University of East London, aged 20.

It was around this time that Victoria began to feel body-conscious, although at 5ft10ins and a dress size 10 to 12, she had always been healthy.

She said: “I was away from home for the first time, and surrounded by gorgeous people.”

It was in 2008, that things began to go visibly wrong, she left her university course weeks into her second year, and was soon after diagnosed with depression and anorexia.

Having moved back home to Hastings around this time, Victoria said how grateful she was for all the support that she received.

“My whole family is fantastic, I could not have asked for more support.

“When I think back now, I realise how heart-breaking it would have been for them.”

Victoria spent two weeks at The Sanctuary, Ashburnham Road, run by social care organisation Turning Point, which offers short term residential placements to adults experiencing a mental health crisis.

Turning Point’s Director of Mental Health Services, Zelda Peters said;

“The Sanctuary service has worked with many people who have experienced difficulties in their lives due to mental health issues, often helping them to stay out of hospital.

“This includes young adults who benefit from the safe environment, receiving tailored support for their individual needs.

“Victoria has achieved a great deal since she accessed our service and we are pleased that she is now working to raise awareness of mental health issues amongst young people.”

Now living in Stratford, East London, Victoria’s future is looking bright. In March, she spent six weeks in New York working for the prestigious Nylon fashion magazine, and is passionate about her final year project looking at how mental health issues are perceived and experienced.

She said: “Even in magazines, mental health issues are presented in quite a clinical way, and are surrounded by definite stigma, which needs to be broken down.”

Details of her project can be found online at http://www.agirlplayingdressup.com/2011/09/my-final-year.html.