Lyndsey Thomas has lost days in bed to mental ill health, scared to face people and too anxious to leave the house.
She points to the traumatic experiences of being bullied in her schooldays and trolled online after the birth of her daughter in 2014 as contributing to her struggles with addiction, panic attacks and post-natal depression, to name but a few.
But, she says, much of her day-to-day anxiety stems from everyday interactions, including at the school gate.
It is why this week, World Wellbeing Week, the 39-year-old is spearheading a national campaign to raise awareness of the power of kindness and the impact it can have on people’s state of mind.
“The power of kindness is so mighty yet it takes little or no effort,” she says.
“A smile can make me feel like I’m not alone. A smile can positively shift my mindset on those mornings when I wake up and my mental health is under the weather.”
‘It’s aimed at all women’
Lyndsey says the Have a Heart campaign, which focuses on women, is not just aimed at those who recognise they have challenges with mental health.
She hopes it will resonate with every woman who has a bad day and would benefit from a quick chat or friendly smile.
“Mental health is now spoken about all the time but not usually on that everyday level,” she says.
“You don’t have to have serious depression but you can feel a little bit down sometimes and it is really about creating awareness about how the power of a smile can change the course of someone’s day and how we can make a difference by being conscious and thinking about what we are saying and what we are writing on social media.”
Lyndsey says she reached rock bottom five years ago, when she became a victim of trolling and high profile public criticism after a story about the birth of her daughter hit national newspapers.
But whilst she has been through many mental health struggles, it is a blank stare or dismissive glance at the school gates that she says cuts the deepest.
“I’m sure more often than not it’s unintentional when other mums might choose not to interact with me in the playground.
“We are all busy mums racing around, heads in the clouds, thinking about the day ahead and not even aware of how our actions can impact others. And I know that unlike me, there are mums who are just fiercely shy.
“But what would it take to be just a little more aware of our actions and of other people’s feelings?
“Whether it’s a blank stare in the playground or the urge to comment negatively on social media, every one of our actions affects someone in some way and all we need to be is just a little more aware.”
The mum-of-two, who lives in the West Yorkshire village of Menston, launched the campaign on Monday, through her Girl About website.
The platform, which went live last month, houses a collective of female bloggers across the UK, who share personal stories on topics including mental health and parenting, and provide reviews and recommendations on things to do and places to go and eat in their area.
It has grown off the back of the Girl About Yorkshire blog, which Lyndsey launched in 2016.
“I wanted to do something, to celebrate the launch of my new Girl About platform, that brings women together, with something that makes an impact in the real world, as face to face interactions will always be stronger than anything generated online,” she says.
“I wanted us to all think about how we treat each other, whether we stop and consider how others are feeling or if we are just stuck in our own bubble most of the time. Do we realise that in not returning a smile at the school gates we are causing someone huge anxiety, or that in not saying ‘hi’ we could seriously sabotage someone’s self-worth?
“These are little things that we are all guilty of when rushing around in our lives, but let’s try to just make a conscious effort to show we have a heart and consciously be kinder to each other.”
Heart on your sleeve
The campaign, which aims to support women suffering in silence with everyday worries, is also raising money for mental health charity MIND, through the sale of yellow heart pins.
The heart symbolises friendship and love, Lyndsey says, whilst yellow stands for happiness, loyalty and optimism.
“In wearing a yellow heart on your sleeve, you’re showing that you’re open with your emotions and also that you are happy to support others too,” she explains.
The badges come in pairs, the idea being the second one is to be gifted to someone in a show of love and support.
“I hope it will lift people,” Lyndsey says. “I hope it will unite people and I hope it will get women thinking about how much their actions can impact others.
“I also hope it will evolve the amount of ‘hi, how are you?’ ‘I’m fine thanks’ conversations to a different level of genuinely showing more interest in those around us.”
She adds: “Women can be the most supportive friends ever - super loyal and there to build us up - but women can also be the cause of much heartache and this is what I’m trying to address in my own way.
“I feel often it happens unintentionally, without real malice -but flippant actions can hurt so let’s all just be a little more aware of each other’s feelings.”
As well as purchasing heart pins, people can support the campaign on social media by sharing yellow heart emojis and using the hashtags #haveaheart and #worldwellbeingweek.