Outnumbered actress Claire Skinner talks guiding and mental health
Claire, who is a mum on TV and in real life, talks to 19 year old Susie about being a parent, guiding and mental health
From guiding to Outnumbered to YoungMinds
Claire Skinner is best known for her portrayal of harassed TV mum Sue on Outnumbered. But last week I flew down to London (from my home in Glasgow) to chat to her about her new role as an ambassador for mental health charity YoungMinds, and the real-life pressures teenagers and their parents can face.
YoungMinds has a lot in common with Girlguiding – we’re both all about young people and we worked together on Think Resilient, our peer education resource on mental health. Where YoungMinds provides support for mental health, I’m proud of how I can build girls’ wellbeing in my role as a Senior Section leader.
During our chat, I discovered I had a lot in common with Claire too. I’ve had depression which my parents supported me through, and she’s experienced being the parent supporting a child who’s struggling with their mental health.
Here’s some of what we shared – from her perspective as a parent, and mine as a daughter.
When I left university because of my mental health, I think sometimes my mum felt that it was something she’d done, that she’d somehow pressured me to move out and that’s why it had gone wrong. But really, it just wasn’t the right place for me and it wasn’t anyone’s fault.
How do you think YoungMinds can help parents in a similar situation?
I always point parents to YoungMinds. They have a parents’ helpline where you can get support. That’s how I initially got involved actually – a next-door neighbour of mine was volunteering and asked me to help on the phones.
I went in and did the training, but at that time my eldest son was having enormous difficulties with his mental health. I found it difficult hearing other parents on the helpline, when I wasn't entirely on top of my own situation at home. That’s when they suggested I became an ambassador, so here we are!
I would also encourage people to chat and to connect with another parent. When I was struggling I’ve never felt so lonely – it was the most isolated I’ve ever felt as an adult.
From my perspective, I wish parents would talk to each other properly and not feel like they have to be like: ‘oh my child’s doing this’ or ‘my child’s doing that’.
When my son was having difficult times (even just calling it a ‘difficult time’ is a bit of a euphemism) and he had to leave the high-pressure school he was at, I remember one particular parent commiserated with me as if he’d died! When actually the school just wasn’t the right environment for him.
What experiences did you have in guiding? And what impact do you think having a girl-only space outside of school has on girls’ wellbeing?
I remember Guides being just fun.
It was a place where you could go and laugh, and that was the best thing. It meant that if anything was going a bit haywire at school, I had this lovely group of friends outside of all that. It’s important that girls can be themselves somewhere.
I loved campfires! I loved it because there was that chance for everyone to do sketches and sing, and it was really communal. It sounds cheesy, but it gave me a real sense of wellbeing.
I was in an enormous school and I wouldn’t have dreamt of getting on the stage there at the time. Guiding definitely gave me some of my first opportunities to perform and act!
It really helped me because I was incredibly shy and introverted but this was a bit of an outlet.
My local Brownie Leader was a bit alarmed when I asked if a Peer Educator could run a session on mental health with the Brownies, but she was totally up for it when she realised it was all about resilience and being a good friend! What do you think of the fact that our Think Resilient resources can be used with girls from a young age?
I think we should be instilling girls’ with a lovely layer of confidence from a young age. And letting them know that things come and things go - and that’s ok!
I’ve heard about young people who haven’t managed to get to the university they wanted and see it as the end of their world. So it’s about instilling that confidence early so that it doesn't get to that point at 18, because it’s heart-breaking really.
When I accessed services at university I kept having people tell me that it’s always best to do talking therapy and to not take medication. They would tell me what was best for me after half an hour of conversation, without asking me what I wanted. For sure, my recovery from depression would have been faster and easier if someone had taken the time to explain my options.
The YoungMinds website is packed with information on how to find help with mental health issues, while their HeadMeds site provides information on mental health medications with real-life stories from young people.
Do you think it’s important to empower young people to take charge of their mental health treatment?
It’s important to say: ‘here’s all the information, now let’s decide what treatment will help together’ instead of saying ‘this is best for you’. It’s often difficult to think properly when you’re under stress, so giving people a window to think about their options can make a big difference.
Last year, some of us Advocates went to the Million Women Rise march. We all chanted the guiding song ‘Thunderation’ – we were having a laugh but it also felt powerful. And at the moment me and The Senior Section unit I lead are collecting toiletries, clothes etc. for new refugees in Glasgow.
Do you think guiding’s focus on serving your community can also support girls’ mental wellbeing?
When I was in Guides, we used to visit people in hospitals and we were encouraged to do voluntary work. I think helping people is very good for your self-esteem.
It broadens your horizons and it’s good for girls to feel they’ve done something kind for someone else.
By this point I felt like our conversation about why people need to have honest conversations had turned into just that – an open chat about mental health! To prove our point, I posted a couple of smug snapchats about feeling like a jet-set journalist and flew home, feeling a little bit lighter.
Girlguiding has always been great at supporting girls’ wellbeing, but it’s really cool that Leaders and Peer Educators now have access to Think Resilient to facilitate open conversations about mental wellbeing with their girls.