Katie Graden Spence talks Mental Health and Poetry

Local poet, Katie Graden Spence talks about her writing ahead of her evening as featured poet for our April Poetry Friendship Table. Katie is a wonderful poet, having produced her first collection by the age of 17 and she is a passionate mental health advocate. Deep Down are delighted to welcome someone who commands so much respect, even putting forward a government proposal for mental health pupil leadership in schools.

I am only 18 and currently studying English, History and Politics A Levels at Glenlola Collegiate in Bangor. I lived in Newtownards until a few months ago, when we bought a house in Carrowdore. My aspirations are to study English and Politics at Queens University, and hopefully, in the not so near future, pursue a career in Politics. I have been mental health campaigning for about a year now as it has always been something close to my heart. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder December, 2011 and last year, I took a stand through my government proposal for a mental health pupil leadership team for every school in Northern Ireland which was exceptionally well received and I aspire to further my work with this, post A level exams, of course! Outside of school, I work part time at Newtownards Hospital as a service assistant and as bank staff for Peninsula Care. However, volunteering is something very close to my heart and it has enabled me to use my personal mental health struggles to be a light in the lives of others as they endure some of their darkest times. Without pain and brokenness, my life wouldn’t have amounted to anything. I’m an ordinary young girl who has been given the opportunity to do something extraordinary in my community and beyond, and that is priceless! I spend a lot of my time public speaking, sharing my story and writing, I basically write about everything, including speeches, poems about mental health, blogs, newspaper articles etc.

In December 2018, I achieved my childhood dream of becoming a self-published author through my publication of my first poetry anthology, ‘Searching for Freedom,’ which is currently available on Amazon. As I have grown older, I have become increasingly aware of the significant demand for more advanced mental health services and support, particularly in Northern Ireland. I have always been an ‘on the go’ kind of girl and I wanted to make a difference, so this is the heart behind my book. Each poem represents a different stage of my journey, sharing everything from anxiety, depression to some more challenging and sensitive personal experiences, like self harm. If I’m honest, it seems surreal!! I didn’t expect to receive such an incredible reception from the anthology and I have sold over 100 copies, with all the proceeds being donated to Thriving Life Church, Newtownards, my spiritual home. The more we talk about mental health problems, the easier it is going to get for people to speak about their struggles, and hopefully, reach out for help.

Writing has been a life saver and that was certainly not meant for hyperbolic effect because it has! Even now, writing is my ‘safe place’ and main coping technique. There’s something so satisfying about being able to pour your emotions onto a page, knowing that you won’t damage or hurt anyone in the process, but yet you’re able to be so brutally honest. Writing is a skill for life and it has helped me in so many ways. Not only has it been a form of therapy and assisted me in my own personal growth and development, but it has also helped me with my studies, my jobs, my campaigning, public speaking etc. It is something I can do as a project, but also as an enjoyable pass time. For example, I keep a regular journal, particularly during high or low points of my life so I can reflect in years to come.

Let me ask you one question, what is stopping you from writing about your experiences? I think this is the question we must address before you can honestly start writing about your personal experiences. For me, I was concerned about what my family and friends would think, how my job would react, would school be ok with this, especially when I openly spoke out about my experience of self harm. However, my writing has had an impact on my community and to me, this is something worth risking criticism for. What I have learnt is not everybody will like your work, but what if your writing is the thing that makes someone stop and think, yes, my life is worth living? Perhaps this sounds dramatic, but this is the true power of honest writing, I have had parents message me saying that their daughters have either limited or stopped self harming after following my journey. I have had MLAs take my poetry anthology into their constituencies for their constituents to read. I have had pupils in school read my anthology in the library whom have used it to help them with their personal mental health struggles. I have had someone messaging me to tell me that a particular poem, ‘if I just hold on,’ stopped them from ending their life one night. I am not the only one who has had an impact, and I won’t be the last, this just proves that you can too! It is important that you feel ready to share your writing, nobody can push you, it is entirely your choice… However, if you’re not ready to tell the world your experiences, it is a brilliant form of therapy which I would highly recommend!

Creativity: Supporting Mental Health

Lifeline 0808 808 8000

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