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When Vulnerability Becomes a Strength: The ‘Hats On for Mind’ Campaign

Participants of the hats on for mind mental health campaign sitting together on hay bales.
Photo: Mind & Go Outdoors
Jen Ramm speaks to Laura Collins, an online mental health activist and Mind charity volunteer, about the significance of the Hats On For Mind campaign. 




Mental health advocacy through social media is a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s gaining momentum. The fast-paced nature of the online world lends itself to the growing need for mental health awareness; infographics detailing the ins and outs of social anxiety, or Instagram story re-posts of mental health hotlines all become a part of a wider story. A powerful network of activists, sharing their own stories as a means of fighting mental health stigma, can be found across multiple platforms. One of these people is Laura Collins, who recently took her activism to new heights by participating in the Hats On For Mind campaign. 


“I'm really open and I've come to a point in my healing journey where I'm happy to talk about those things and happy to use it to help other people feel less alone,” Laura explains. Amassing around 7700 Instagram followers, it’s safe to say that she has a substantial platform for mental health activism, which is one of her main missions. With a gutsy, unapologetic approach, Laura shares some of the most personal parts of her life with a considerably large group of (mostly anonymous) people. Although, she humbly says, “I might not have thousands of followers, but what I do have is a story to tell and a message that I want to put out there.” 


Alongside her Instagram account, Laura also raises awareness through point-of-view pieces written for charities such as YoungMinds and Mind. Her media-specific volunteer work with these organisations has led her into a world of opportunities - one of these being the Hats On For Mind Campaign, which she says has given her “the ability to make connections with other people and feel less alone and help them feel less alone.” Given her prior experience with the organisation, Mind contacted Laura directly and asked to be involved. Mind would be partnering with brands such as Go Outdoors, Blacks and Millets to promote the well-being benefits the great outdoors has to offer. It turns out that an outdoors-based campaign couldn’t be more up Laura’s street; growing up in the countryside, looking after farm animals, and riding horses are aspects of her identity that made the project all the more appealing to her. “I advocate for mental health anyway, with my own lived experience, but also, I am a proper country girl!” 


Within the campaign, a handful of celebrity ambassadors for Go Outdoors designed a range of hats and flasks, with the proceeds going to Mind. Among these celebrities were David Seaman, Helen Skelton, Sean Fletcher, Gethin Jones and Julia Bradbury. The campaign also featured five Mind media volunteers: Paul, Dhermika, Laura, Hameed, and Dalia. Each volunteer was paired up with the celebrity they had the most in common with, as another feature of this campaign was a series of candid video interviews surrounding mental health - for Laura, this was television personality, Helen Skelton. “I was like, I can't believe I've never heard of this woman. She's incredible. So, I was excited, but also a bit nervous to speak to her because it was just an incredible opportunity and I wanted to be able to tell her my story. I also wanted her to be able to tell me some of the stuff she's done in her own words,” Laura recalls. By partnering the volunteers with like-minded celebrities, Mind created a pathway of connection for all those involved, which was crucial given the sensitive nature of the campaign - a safe space was surely tantamount to the Hats On For Mind’s very cause. Between photoshoots and wardrobe fittings, organic connections were nurtured. “Gethin and I talked about Welsh culture because I have a Welsh background and so does he. I spoke to Helen about my horse riding, and it was just really lovely to be able to connect with them on a human level before we went into that.”Campaigns like this chip away at the preconceptions we might have, showing that celebrities aren’t indestructible machines. “These people have panic attacks, these people have anxiety, these people suffer with depression and trauma and they're no different to us in that sense.” 


What sounds like a daunting task - speaking openly in front of a camera about your mental health struggles with a stranger who happens to be famous - ended up being very freeing for Laura. This is partly because the project was in no way perfunctory or tokenistic; these were real people with real stories, and there were no exploitative undertones from Mind. It’s all too common that mental health struggles, particularly concerning celebrities, are sensationalised in the media for shock value; the Hats On For Mind campaign is a breath of fresh air (quite literally). “I could have my voice represented authentically and sufficiently, without feeling like I'm uncomfortable in any aspect.” Laura found that a culture of care was sustained when she was on and off-set, by steering the interview away from any triggering topics and also being the one to give the final seal of approval for her recorded interview with Helen. “I did put some boundaries in place and say, ‘I don't want to talk about the hospital admissions because that's not something I feel comfortable talking about to anyone, let alone putting out publicly’, whereas my experience with OCD rituals or panic attacks - totally happy to talk about that.” 


Sharing your mental health journey is a balancing act, though. There’s a fine line between being vulnerable and running the risk of oversharing and regretting it, which is something that Laura has learned the hard way. “Unless you are 100% sure that you would be happy with what you put out there being seen by everyone - then don’t put it out there.” Now, posting online and enabling herself to be transparent about her struggles has made Laura feel “empowered” more than anything else. The significance of the Hats On For Mind campaign and everything it represented - being outdoors for wellbeing purposes, the sharing of stories which would have once been taboo -  is something that cannot be underestimated. As for Laura, she is planning to continue with her mental health activism journey following on from partaking in the campaign; “I've seen people getting outdoors and sharing snaps about what they've been up to, just getting out in nature, even just for 5 minutes; it's just so lovely to know that I had a part in influencing that meaningful change.” 

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