My name is Bryony, and I am mental. Mad. A fruit-loop. Whatever else you want to throw at me – I don’t care, because my head’s thrown me much worse. I have OCD and over the years have also suffered from depression, bulimia and drug dependency. Most of this I did completely alone, just like everyone else who suffers from mental illness – because mental illness lies to you by making you feel like a freak.

Only through writing extensively about mental health have I realised that actually, it’s completely normal to feel weird. One in four of us will experience mental illness this year. That means four in four of us know someone who will. And yet very few people feel able to talk about it, because we are British and we must pull ourselves together and have a stiff upper lip. Well: bollocks to that, I say. Let it all out. Make a song and dance out of your depression – because only by screaming and shouting are people in positions of power unable to ignore us.

Mental Health Mates meet up

A typical Mental Health Mates meet-up.

It was from this thought that Mental Health Mates was born. Back in January I was in a terrible funk because I had just spent several months writing a memoir of my mental health, and who knew that writing about mental illness might make you… well, mentally ill? So there I was, out in the park trying to run away my OCD, listening to a Jarvis Cocker documentary about Carson McCullers, an author who wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and whose relatively short life was dogged by depression and alcoholism. There was some archive audio of her saying: ‘everyone is part of a We except me’. Her words stopped me in my tracks. “No!” I thought. “No, you were wrong! You belonged to a ‘We’, but you just didn’t know it!” So I went home and decided to find that ‘We’.

I posted on Twitter, suggesting a regular meet-up for people with mental health issues, where they could walk and talk without fear of judgement. I put a date and a place: Valentine’s Day, at the Lido Café in Hyde Park. I thought I had gone properly mad as I left home that cold, wet Sunday morning. Then 20 people turned up, and we’ve been adding new members ever since.

Mental Health Mates meet up

Another meet-up, in sunnier weather.

My dream is that lots of Mental Health Mates groups will spring up all over the country and overseas. So far, we’ve spread around the UK, but also as far as Dubai, New York and San Francisco. Here’s how you can get involved:

Mental Health Mates is supported by a small but fabulous team of volunteers with their own mental health issues and day-to-day commitments. Every walk leader has experienced mental health issues, as have all the people on the admin team. Whilst we aim to get back to you as soon as possible, we appreciate your patience.

I look forward to seeing you soon, either as a walk leader or an attendee. I also hope that hearing and reading other people’s stories will help you realise that you are not alone. Because you aren’t. Remember: you are part of the ‘We’, and having met a fair few of them, I can tell you now that the ‘We’ is pretty awesome.

You can find out more about me in my book, Mad Girl, or by looking at some of the other press stories linked below: