In a small series of profiles, we at MQ Mental Health Research would like to introduce to you some of our wonderful MQ Ambassadors. Representing our charity organisation, our ambassadors help to spread the message of what MQ does, why mental health research is so important and lend their voices of lived experience expertise of mental illness.

MQ Ambassador Flo Sharman who is also a content copywriter, mental health advocate and public speaker, chatted to us to share her experience of mental health conditions and why she became interested in MQ Mental Health Research.


Flo, thank you so much for chatting with us. Firstly, what are your interests?

My passion in life and in many ways my saviour towards my mental illnesses is equestrianism in particular eventing and racing. I have been lucky to have my own horses for many years and my darling Fergi is my world and has saved me from my mental illnesses and has been my driving force to keep going on the hardest days.

I also adore fitness, and this once again has been a key tool in my lifelong recovery of my four mental illnesses.

The great outdoors plays a big part in my life, and I love being out in the countryside and I’m very lucky to live in the Cotswolds, minutes from miles of open fields. The great outdoors does wonders for my mental wellbeing and has been one of my great escapes over the years.


What are your favourite things about being alive?

Meeting a variety of people and making lifelong memories and hopefully in some small way enriching people’s lives and making a difference to those around me. Having the ability to enjoy the beauty that this world has to offer and have an array of connections with special animals.


Could you tell us your diagnosed mental illnesses?

I was diagnosed at the tender age of just 8 and ½ yrs. old with not just one but four mental illnesses those being PTSD, OCD, panic attacks and depression.


Could you please give a summary of your lived experience?

My mental illness journey began with a mental breakdown at 8yrs old, it started one evening with physical symptoms that changed my life forever. Within a short 3 months from those first physical symptoms of blindness, paralyzed, headache and many other symptoms I became completely housebound, suicidal, excluded from my primary school and nearly sectioned at a Tier 4 clinic.

I was then labelled with 4 mental illnesses within a year of that first attack which showed itself in those terrifying symptoms that many thought would just be a one-off attack and I would go back to being the outgoing happy go lucky young girl who loved adventures and living life to the full. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case in fact the complete opposite!

Not only am I diagnosed with four mental illnesses that I battle with daily I also deal with four invisible physical illnesses and this just shows never judge what you see because often the difficult things are completely invisible, so many people are so surprised when I tell them all I deal with and often get but you look so well!


How has your experience of your illnesses changed over the years?

I lost my childhood due to my mental illnesses and it’s taken many ups and downs, medication, therapy and my mental illness toolbox to get to where I am today.

My mental illnesses have not disappeared I now know that I will always have those labels, but they don’t define me they are just one small part of the jigsaw that makes me who I am.

I face challenges daily and my OCD is always a battle and so is my PTSD and I know they will always be with me but I live a life I love and can deal with but there is always challenges.


What do you understand about the causes of your condition?

For so many years nobody knew what triggered my mental breakdown at the beginning and it took many years for us to discover that my mental breakdown and my mental illnesses all link back to me having lifesaving surgery at just 5 months old and having many traumatic events in hospital at such a young age. I was 16 before we discovered this and the reason is due to the lack of research towards mental illnesses and that is my driving force of me wanting to share my story and spread the word on the vital impact mental illness research can have on generations to come.


What do people say when you tell them about your conditions?

Often when I tell people that I suffer from PTSD they are surprised due to so many thinking only those who are in the services or who have been involved in serious trauma incident can be diagnosed with PTSD and in all honesty, I was one of those people when I was first diagnosed. I now totally understand the real meaning of PTSD and those that can suffer from it. It is one of my most challenging mental illnesses I deal with and comes in so many forms and hits you at any moment.

I have always been a keen learner and like having a good understanding of my conditions I deal with and at the beginning I found it very frustrating and difficult to not know why I’ve been dealt the card of dealing with 4 mental illnesses at such a young age, but it’s certainly helped me knowing the real cause of my mental illnesses and that life changing mental breakdown.

It shows though how key research is and it really can be life changing, I can’t turn back the clock and get my childhood back, but I can help fund research and awareness that I know can be such a positive impact in those suffering with mental illness.


What misconception are you most annoyed by about your illness and mental illness in general?

There is so much misconception surrounding mental illnesses and for me I think there are three key things:

how people think because you look so well on the outside everything must be fine. That isn’t the case at all and often invisible illnesses mental or physical illnesses our the most difficult to deal with.

For me I have PTSD and people are so surprised when I tell them that because so many people even to this day believe that only those who are in the military or in public service jobs or been involved in a serious traumatic event can have PTSD. That isn’t the case and it is one of the things that I thrive to make people understand how awful PTSD is but also how so many different people can suffer from it and lastly I think people thinking you are so called recovered from your mental illnesses they don’t disappear they don’t go away I still have the labels I still have mental illness; I can’t turn a light switch off and their disappeared. Recovery is lifelong.

So many people think that you can pop a pill, have some therapy and everything is cured and your fully recovered from mental illness. I’m afraid to say its not as easy and black and white as that and its paramount that society understand that everyone’s journey is unique and mental illness is different for everyone; even those who are diagnosed with the same mental illness its key that everyone is treated individually.


What Stigma Have You Faced?

I have faced a lot of stigma. I think anyone who has mental illness will have suffered stigma at some point it’s such a sad statement say but I think it’s so true.

For me the biggest stigma battle I faced was me losing my childhood due to my mental illnesses due to being excluded from my primary school because I was the 8-year-old girl in a mental health crisis labelled with four mental illnesses. I was told by teachers that I couldn’t be at school anymore and I remember the day that my mother was brought into the head teachers office to say “Florence can’t be here anymore she’s being excluded from the school because her behaviour is upsetting the other children and we don’t want a child in Florence’s situation at our school”. That’s probably the hardest pill to swallow and I’ll never forget it.

In my eyes the only way that stigma is going to be completely reduced and disappear in society is if mental illness and physical illness are treated equally that’s my belief and I hope in my lifetime I see that happen.


Since you were first diagnosed how has mental health or mental illness changed in society?

There has been a positive change how mental health and mental illness is looked at in society since my mental breakdown but there is so many more steps that need to be made. I think one of the things that society needs to be careful on is that because the conversations have become more open and because mental illness terminology is not frowned upon as much as it used to be, people are more open about talking about it I personally believe that that terminology is used too flippantly.

Often, I hear people saying they’re little depressed or I’ve had a little panic attack or I’m really OCD about my house; those conditions are serious conditions, I deal with them myself. OCD isn’t just about cleaning it is so much more than that.

I think it is great that the conversations surrounding mental health are opening and people are talking about mental illnesses, but it is vital that the correct terminology is used, and that mental illness labels and words aren’t used lightly and in the wrong context because they are crippling conditions that are so hard to deal with. You wouldn’t just use for example a physical illness diagnosis lightly so the same principles should be in place surrounding mental illness.


What do you do day to day or week to week to manage your symptoms and mental wellbeing?

I have my four key things that I use on the good days, the bad days and the tough times they are exercise, the great outdoors, my animals and talking. It’s what I call my mental illness toolkit and I know it will be with me on my life long mental health journey.

Those things are great, and they are my saviours, but those things don’t make my OCD disappear they don’t have a magic cure for my PTSD or my panic attacks. I can’t just go for a walk and everything is going to be amazing. My depressive thoughts can come at any point and if I go and do one of these things, see my horse for example yes it makes a huge difference, but it doesn’t make those mental illnesses go away.


What lessons have you learned from your mental illness experience?

I’ve learned many things from my mental illness experience, I’m sure I will continue to learn things through what I now know is a lifelong mental illness journey.

I would say there are key things for me that I’ve really learned and taken from this experience. In my eyes you can either take things keep them as a negative or turn things into a positive. I’m a big believer in turning all the bad things into a positive or a lesson.

My mental illnesses have given me the belief that I’m so much stronger than I think I am, that someone can look the happiest person, but they could be crumbling on the inside. It’s given me the character to never judge what you see and to always be kind. It’s made me be super resilient and how to get through the darkest times and having the ability to do that has taught me that it is so important to have the right people by your side and surround yourself with people who fill your cup up not empty your cup in an instant.

One of the lessons that I’ve learnt from my mental illnesses is to always keep fighting no matter what.


What is special about MQ?

To me the reason why I’m MQ is so special is because they are the leading mental health research charity and I know from my own personal experience how vital, and life changing research is.

Mental health research will help generations to come and hopefully one day we will have a cure surrounding mental illness, wouldn’t that be incredible?


Our thanks to Flo for sharing her story, highlighting just why research matters for mental health and why the work MQ Mental Health Research does must continue.








What does mental health mean to you?

Mental health means to me very different to what mental illness means and I think this is one of my key messages that I try and get across. I believe that mental health is like physical health, and we all have mental health, but we don’t all have mental illness. It is something that I think is so important people understand and I really want to try and get that message across that we are all born with mental health like we are all born with physical health, and it is vital we look after our mental health, and we look after our physical and they should be looked at equally. As a society we should all have greater understanding towards our own overall mental health like we do our physical health. It’s important that mental health isn’t labelled mental illness, they’re two very different things and I think many believe they mean the same thing. Mental health we are born with it everybody in society worldwide has it not everyone worldwide has mental illness, one in four are diagnosed with mental illness. Mental health is the overall arching thing of our mind and what we have just like our body and what goes on physically that’s physical health the mental health to me doesn’t mean PTSD, OCD, Depression and Panic Attacks that is mental illness and that is the difference. Mental health is the overall thing that we all have and are born with and we have to have  knowledge of it and we have to look after it we’re all going to have highs and lows of our mental health but we’re not all going to be clinically diagnosed with a diagnosable mental illness. So to me mental health is something we’re born with we should value we should look after we should take care of it and we should have a great understanding of it and personally mental health and physical health need to be treated and looked at equally and mental illness and physical illness need to be treated, understood and researched equally.


Question – How did the pandemic affect your mental health your life your symptoms and the management of your condition?

In some ways the pandemic was a big positive for me in other ways it was a negative I struggled with not having routine, but I made a routine that worked for me that did kind of make my OCD a lot worse and I did become obsessive about exercise I was working out three times a day and was doing as much as I could. It also made my eating disorder tendencies creep up which haven’t for many years that is difficult, but I had my coping mechanisms that have worked for many years and they continue to work to this day. I think everyone struggled with the pandemic in some ways or another the positives that I took away from it was that I was with my family, I live in the beautiful Cotswolds so that really helped and I was doing everything I loved that was the beginning of the pandemic and I got into a really good routine and rhythm and things were actually going pretty well and I worked out how to deal with the situation and I had a plan. I think also what really helped me was at the beginning I went into the pandemic in a good mental headspace I had just started a new amazing relationship and things were very positive so that was a real help going into a difficult period. What didn’t help was when I had serious riding accident in July 2020 just when things were kind of opening up and that changed everything and had one of toughest summers I’ve ever had. It was a life changing event that in a matter of 24 hours all the things that were my coping mechanisms were taken away from me that was incredibly difficult and I’m not going to lie I was in a very bad way for summer 2020 and going into autumn winter 2020. I was also diagnosed with a rare invisible illness which was making me have over 50 seizures a day for a period due to a serious head injury that I had from the riding accident. Without the accident I felt I dealt with the pandemic well and I was quite proud of myself but adding on the accident was very difficult and was tough to deal with when living in a world in a pandemic. It took a lot of mental strength which I was proud to say I’ve got through and it has been life changing that accident and that’s a whole another story that adds to my journey that I my life takes me on. There were highs and lows surrounding my mental health during the pandemic, but I think that was the case for many people, I probably was one of the lucky ones I never got COVID and my family didn’t so we were very lucky. The accident and the pandemic taught me just how strong I am and how much mental and physical resilience I have and how important my coping mechanisms are to me and my mental wellbeing.


Question – Sometimes people might think recovery is straight dependable line of progress when you look back at your mental health experience how would you describe your ongoing journey of recovery/challenges?

Recovery is completely different for every person who suffers from mental illness and I’m a believer that recovery is lifelong just as I now know my mental illnesses will never go away; currently there is no cure for mental illness maybe one day with MQ’s incredible work there will be but for now there isn’t. I’m not going to say I’m in a great stage of recovery and life’s a breeze and everything’s rosy because the reality is that isn’t the case at all, recovery isn’t easy it’s a roller coaster yes the honest answer is I am so much better than I was when I had my mental breakdown but I battle daily. I have OCD struggles on a daily basis, I have PTSD flashbacks weekly and often I have my death panic attacks throughout the months. I’m on medication in fact two mental illness medication that is part of my recovery but not my cure and there is nothing to be ashamed of having to take medication for mental illness. I can honestly say that my recovery journey started 17 years ago and continues and changes throughout the years. Things are much better from when my mental breakdown began however it isn’t straightforward and the things that used to trigger me may not know but then there are new things that trigger me and I’m learning through my recovery process. I’m never going to be recovered it’s a statement but that’s what I believe, I’m in recovery and I’m on a much better journey than I was when it all started but it’s a lifelong journey of recovery and I’m never going to get rid of mental illnesses and I’ll be learning what works what doesn’t work throughout my lifelong journey of being a mental illness sufferer. There’s nothing wrong with that I think recovery is unique to every single person just like everybody’s mental illness journey is unique to them and I think that’s so important for people to remember. Lastly, if someone says they’re in recovery don’t assume their life is amazing now and that they don’t face daily challenges and are not crippled by mental illness. Just because someone’s in recovery doesn’t mean their challenges have disappeared and they are so called cured as often it’s a recovery rollercoaster and things do get better but the mental illnesses don’t just go away with a click of the fingers.




Question – What needs to change in society when it comes to mental well-being or mental illness?

There’s a huge amount that needs to change in society, I think the biggest thing that needs to change is that mental illness is treated the same as physical illness; there is no stigma surrounding physical illness so why is there a stigma surrounding mental illness. The funding that is put into physical health compared to mental health is shocking and when you look at the statistics of one in four with a diagnosable mental illness and suicide being the biggest killer of men under 40 you can hardly believe how little funding is put into mental health and this must change. I think it is so important otherwise we’ll forever be in a world of so many in a serious mental health crisis. The whole movement surrounding mental well-being is very positive but I think it needs to be he looked at and treated in the correct way because I feel many people will feel they are looking after their mental well-being by having a lovely long bath and lighting a candle and that their mental well-being is fantastic and that everything is going to be great and they are truly looking after their mental wellbeing because they are doing those two simple things. Mental well-being is so much deeper than that; mental well-being is looking after our mind, having a true understanding of what’s really going on in our mind on the good days and the bad days and for people to have the ability to properly care and look after their mental well-being just like they do their physical well-being.

Question – What role can education play in the future of mental health?

I think education surrounding mental health is vital and I believe education can play a powerful role towards mental health in years to come. Personally, I believe education surrounding mental health in schools is key in reducing the stigma in society, helping generations to come to have a greater understanding of what mental health really means and the difference between mental health and mental illness. I also think it is key that people who are in medical and educational professions whether that be nursing, doctors or even those who are in university pastoral care type roles need to be educated on the uniqueness of everyone suffering from mental illness and have full training surrounding the topic. It is so important that teachers and university staff have a full understanding of what mental illness is and have full training on spotting those early signs as well as being compassionate and understanding surrounding those in a mental health crisis but also those who are diagnosed with mental illness. I think it is very important for the next generations that mental health is on the curriculum, and I think it would be a large factor on how society reduce the stigma and for people to treat and look at mental health the same as physical health.

Question -What do you wish had been researched before you developed your condition?

For me I wish that there had been research surrounding the possibilities of someone who had had been through traumatic life-threatening experiences at such age like having lifesaving surgery, stopping breathing numerous times and traumatic experiences in hospital at just 5months old. How likely it is that someone who’s been through these situations could later in life whether it’s childhood or in adulthood how they are could suffer from mental illnesses, have a mental breakdown or developed an array of mental illnesses throughout their life; this would have been so beneficial to me. I can’t turn back the clock of losing my childhood because of my mental illnesses me and my family having no understanding of what caused my mental breakdown and why I had certain triggers for my PTSD flashbacks, the reason we didn’t have this is because of the lack of research when it all began but that is what I really wish had been in place when I had my mental breakdown as I honestly think my path would have been very different and believe I wouldn’t of had my childhood taken away from me.






Question – Do you think your conditions have changed too you are as a person?

I can’t stand here today and say they haven’t changed me as a person because truthfully, they have. My conditions don’t define who I am, but mental illnesses have taught me a lot and I wouldn’t be the understanding, sympathetic and courageous young lady that I am today, if I didn’t have my mental illnesses. They have shaped me to be the Flo I am today they are part of my identity but..

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