Mental Health Awareness Week: Q&A with John & Kitty Wallace from the BDD Foundation

15 May 2019

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, a campaign hosted by the Mental Health Foundation with the aim of raising awareness and inspiring action to promote the message of good mental health. The theme of this year’s campaign is Body Image. The Ardonagh Community Trust (ACT) team spoke to Kitty Wallace from the Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) Foundation, and her father John Wallace from Price Forbes, recipient of an ACT grant earlier in the year on behalf of the BDD Foundation.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your experience with BDD and your role within the Foundation?

Kitty:
I was initially diagnosed with BDD when I was 19 years old after suffering for many years without knowing what was wrong.  My whole life was controlled and governed by anxieties about my appearance and fears about what others thought about me.  This got so bad that I stopped leaving the house, totally isolated myself and everyday life became a struggle.

After undertaking Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I recovered enough to attend Exeter University and pursue a career in fashion. Unfortunately, I pushed myself too much, too soon, and I experienced a major relapse in my BDD at the age of 28. At my lowest point, I was unable to leave my family home for five months, but in hindsight this led me to my greatest breakthrough in recovery.

During those months of struggle, I was looking for a community who understood what I was going through, and in my search I found the BDD Foundation. I knew I wanted to be involved, and what started with small fundraising efforts, soon developed into my involvement as a Trustee and now my current role as Head of Operations.

Can you share some highlights and progress updates from the BDD Foundation over the last year?

Kitty:
Over the last year the BDD Foundation has grown in leaps and bounds.  We have taken on new trustees, a clinical advisor and a patron.

We have been focussing on raising awareness via the media by profiling case studies, and have teamed up with the NHS PR team, working with them on several media campaigns around safeguarding vulnerable individuals, such as those with BDD.

We have been involved in training volunteers of an affiliated charity helpline, OCD Action, on how to take calls from individuals with BDD.  As we do not yet have a helpline of our own it is crucial that individuals have somewhere they can call for emotional support, information on the disorder, treatment and how to access it.  They have seen a huge increase in calls, demonstrating the need for such a service.

We are in the process of organising a BDD Conference with the theme ‘Young Minds and Body Dysmorphic Disorder: The Art of Self-Image’.  The event will feature expert and inspirational speakers, as well as BDD-themed workshops, and will be livestreamed so that individuals who are housebound or are unable to travel can take part.

We will also be launching an animation, funded by the ACT Community Grant, which was created and produced by triple BAFTA award-winning and Oscar nominated animator, Salvador Maldonado, and voiced by young people from the Maudsley Hospital.

Body image is the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019. How important do you think it is to raise awareness on this topic?

Kitty:
In a UK-wide stress survey in 2018, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) found that three in ten people felt so stressed by their body image and appearance at some point in the past year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

Although ‘Body Image’ is an incredibly broad topic and encompasses many issues ranging from normal levels of dissatisfaction right up to serious mental health conditions such as BDD and eating disorders, it is clear that this is a topic that needs to be addressed in society today.

What is the goal for the BDD Foundation in the future?

Kitty:
Statistics show that at least 1 in 50 people suffer with BDD, and as the only charity in the world focussed on the condition, our aim is to grow to meet the needs of sufferers globally.

Despite this high number, awareness of BDD is still so low, both in the public and healthcare spheres and this is costing lives.

BDD still has one of the highest suicide rates of any mental health disorder and is listed by the World Health Organisation as one of the top 10 most disabling illnesses, both physical and mental.  We know that BDD is treatable, but without awareness and knowledge people are not accessing the treatment they so desperately need.

Why did you apply for an ACT Community Grant?

John:
My daughter suffered from a mental health condition, subsequently identified as Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Through my daughter’s illness, and then recovery via the help of the BDD Foundation, who saved her life, I learnt what a terrible affliction BDD is.  It wasn’t visible, it was silent, and in far too many cases it is deadly.  The Foundation had no money.  Almost none, and so I contacted ACT and told them our story. Thank God, they listened.

What impact do you think the ACT grant money has had on the BDD Foundation?

John:
The grant immediately boosted their confidence. They were able to hire a BAFTA award-winning animator to create a special educational video to go out to all schools to create awareness of this condition. This action alone will help many sufferers to understand they are not alone and will show them help is out there and recovery is possible. Maybe this animation can go International!? I feel the Ardonagh Group should be able to take credit for their fantastic contribution.

What are your hopes for the future of the BDD Foundation?

John:
They are fulfilling a huge gap in the knowledge of a lot of general health practitioners, and indeed mental health workers. My daughter has switched from her successful career in fashion, to re-train and become a professional BDD therapist. My job in Price Forbes has enabled me to fund her treatment but there is a huge need for more support of others who are not so fortunate, to build awareness and provide life-saving help. I really want Ardonagh, as a forward-looking company, to take the BDD Foundation into its heart, and continue its incredibly valued support.

For more information about the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, visit https://bddfoundation.org/

About Ardonagh Community Trust

Closely following the creation of the Ardonagh Group in 2017, Ardonagh Community Trust (ACT) was formed as a way to leverage the resilience, spirit and diversity of nearly 100 offices and 6,000 employees across the UK.

As a registered Group charity, ACT provides a platform to amplify the collective impact on causes and charities closely linked to the communities we live and work within.

ACT delivers a dedicated and focused financial support programme to UK communities in the form of grants and match funding. Eligible to employees from businesses within the Ardonagh Group, individuals and groups are encouraged to use this funding to support charitable causes they have a close relationship to, and therefore applications for support from external causes are not accepted.

In addition, focussed support is provided through a national cause in the form of charity partner Mind, which works tirelessly to ensure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.

Read about the people, projects and passion from ACT’s first 12 months in the yearbook.

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