Movement Is Hope: Moving for Mental Health

This Mental Health Awareness Week 2024, the theme is Movement for Mental Health. In this article, MQ staff member Juliette Burton (pictured above) explains why her mental health lived experience has led to her movement – running to raise money for mental health research and why it matters so much to her.


Research is Key


Movement starts with hope. My mental illnesses led me to some hopeless times. But research gives me hope, which is why I want to give back and raise money for research. I hope to do that with my own movement.

I’ve been called crazy many times. Some might fear mental illness because it’s the sharp edge of what it means to be human. People are scared of what they don’t understand. Researchers are helping us understand, so we won’t need to be scared anymore. So much of my life I’ve struggled to survive. I want us all to thrive. Research is key.

Research has given me a greater understanding of why I struggle more than others – I’m hypermobile and I’m being diagnosed for neurodivergence both of which have, according to research, clear links to a likelihood of mental health conditions developing. Environmental factors, genetic factors, and childhood experiences make me more likely to experience mental distress. Before this research, when I was growing up, I didn’t know any of this. I just felt like I was ‘wrong’, or ‘different’ and like the world wasn’t built for me.


“Sadly, another thing I’ve learned from research is that people with severe mental illness, like myself, are more likely to die 10-20 years earlier.”


The only way the world will open for people like me is if the world changes. And research is the only way that can happen.


Lived experience


I’ve experienced mental health distress since the age of 7 or 8. This became debilitating mental health conditions diagnosed in my teens and 20s, including eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, as well as anxiety disorder, depression, body dysmorphic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, dissociative identity disorder, PTSD, complex post-traumatic stress disorder and I’ve also experienced psychotic hallucinations.

I was sectioned under the mental health act when I was 17 because I was a month away from dying of anorexia. A year later I was suicidal due to binge eating disorder. I’ve been an inpatient 5 times for mental illness.

Nowadays, the labels I used to define myself aren’t my mental health conditions.

I’m a comedian, using humour to break down barriers and increase understanding. If we’re laughing together, we feel less alone and I never want anyone to feel as alone as the stigma that surrounds mental health conditions has led me to feel.

I’m also a writer. Writing helps me communicate with others and with myself. It helps me constantly learn, explore, and create, gives my voice and my experiences strength. And I’ve learned both writing and performing comedy helps others too.


Mental Health Is A Movement


Movement helps my mental health. It’s one tool in the toolbelt of mental wellness management I can use to give me a better chance of managing my mental health. Being active calms my mind. Minds and bodies are interconnected, therefore mental health is physical health. It’s a two-way system. My body informs my mind, and my mind informs my body. And frequently, my mind is the one more in charge. So often it is mind over physical matter.

Being active, whether through dance or walking or running or something else helps me connect with me. Being in my body feels overwhelming for me so often. Spending time strengthening it, challenging it, working with it helps me break it down and rebuild both my muscles but also my thoughts and feelings. Just like when I get on stage, something shifts. An energy changes. It’s a practice though. Just like laughter, the more I do it the more empowered I feel.

Movement empowers me, just like performing comedy. So much of my life I’ve felt disempowered, I now know that when I empower myself, it inspires others to empower themselves.


Empowering Moves


Earlier this year, I ran the London Landmarks Half Marathon, my first ever half marathon, to raise money for MQ Mental Health Research. The picture above was taken after I finished the race, raising over £400 for the charity.

I wanted to run for mental health research because I long for a mentally healthier future for all. I don’t want others to go down the route I’ve gone down. I don’t want others to struggle like I have and still do. Research gives us the key to real change, awareness isn’t enough.

Research gives us the information we need to change treatments, interventions, preventions, policies to create a healthier society where someone like me can flourish, not be cast out. Strengthening others strengthens ourselves. And since we all have mental health, by strengthening those who struggle more than others it will mean we’re strengthening ourselves.


“Addressing the needs of those who have different needs doesn’t take away from anyone else, it adds to our experience. Lifting others up doesn’t bring us down.


Why should people like me be left behind? Millions of people worldwide are affected by mental illness. All of us have mental health just like we all have physical health. Some of us develop mental illness just like some develop physical illness. Some of us, like me, have conditions we learn to live with for the rest of our lives.

A few years ago, I had a breakdown. I don’t like that word but it’s the best word I can find. Without breakdowns we wouldn’t have breakthroughs. During that time, being active felt impossible, physically impossible. But being active and moving doesn’t necessarily mean physically. We can start a movement creatively, philosophically, politically. My friends started the movement within me, by helping me, listening to me, being with me. Eventually the movement and joy in moving, joy in living, revealed itself again.


Moving Differently


When I’m in a depressive time, when clinical depression is changing the way I think, feel and behave, a part of the depressive cycle that I go through includes a period of time where I have to work hard at imagining small, incremental improvements. Believing those achievements, however small, are possible. And that’s not even doing the small, incremental improvements, I just need to be able to lift that weight off my brain. I need to train my imagination to believe something like “ tomorrow, I can go for a walk”. That’s my goal that then builds to one day being able to go for that walk, then maybe again a few days later when I’m more confident.

Movement can mean so many things. We’ve got those deeper muscles that move our lungs and diaphragm, which none of us see. They move to help us breathe. Imagination is a part of the movement. You can’t move unless you’ve imagined it first. Like you can’t do anything as a human without imagining it first. Without conceptualising it, how do we believe it’s possible? And again, mental health is not a belief system. This practice of movement does require that extension of what we imagine.

Breathwork is movement, moving air into your body and out of your body is a form of movement. And that’s where all of the mental wellness exercises and practices that we have, where all physical activity begins is breathwork. Whether you’re a runner, weightlifter, casual walker you can’t do any of it without the movement of breathing.

So many people might not have extended periods of time to stand still outdoors or do meditation or breathwork or enjoy nature. Many people might feel as though they don’t have the time to do that. But even just being in an office and swivelling on a swivel chair or kicking off our shoes and moving our toes on the floor, or being mindful of the movement of our fingers as we type away at our keyboards – all of this is still movement. And with that keyboard typing, ideas are moving through our fingers and into the world. That’s a pretty incredible movement for which I can be grateful for as I write this right now.


Stigma Freedom


I feel no shame because mental health challenges are part of being human. Mental illness has been around for as long as society has been. It’s in great works of literature, it’s in religious texts, it’s in our art, it’s in our history. The shame isn’t mine, shame comes from stigma and misunderstanding. And with shame comes isolation and isolation is a killer.

It’s only through research we can discover exactly why for some, like me, life is that much harder and what can be done to help us. Is it our genetics, our environments, the society we live within that needs to change to help us?


“My mental illnesses are not monsters I’m battling against but survival techniques my mind developed to manage overwhelming thoughts and feelings that come from living our challenging world.

My journey of recovery is ongoing. I still face challenges every day with my mental health. It’s only through research that people like me, living with a mental illness, will have a chance to live long incredible lives.

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