YouTuber Gracie Francesca Wants More Young People Talking About Mental Health And Politics
"Lots of people complain about issues like mental health and education, and don't actually realise things can be changed by the government."
Over 200,000 people have subscribed to Gracie Francesca's YouTube channel, Ugly Face of Beauty, in which she discusses beauty and fashion, and raises awareness around body-image issues.
Twenty-five-year-old Gracie, real name Grace Victory, is also passionate about mental health, a topic close to her heart, which she discusses frankly with her huge numbers of fans.
She told BuzzFeed News her own battle with mental illness started when she was 12 years old. "I was called fat by someone at my dance school, and because of that I ended up having issues with food," Gracie said.
"Around 16, I tried self-harming as a way to sort of cope with my issues… I guess I was trying to match the outside with the inside."
Gracie said that during her childhood and early adulthood she was "heavily depressed and anxious", but because mental health is such a taboo subject, she didn't feel that she could talk to anyone about it.
Over time her problems became worse, and when she was 21 she made plans to end her life. "That's when I realised it had gone too far and I needed to get help," she said.
Gracie made the decision to seek professional advice. She was eventually offered talking therapy, which helped her to learn different ways to handle her problems.
"I think I just had enough," she said. "I'd been having issues with food, my mind, and my body image for nearly 10 years, and I was just sick of it.
"I just thought, I'm going to talk to someone and see what happens… I'd just had enough of not being happy, and I realised that I needed to be happy to be able to live a fulfilled life."
Her turning point was "feeling suicidal and not understanding why", Gracie said. Seeing celebrities, like Demi Lovato, who had opened up about their own battles with mental illness, encouraged her to speak to a doctor about her problems.
"It was a really tough time and I felt quite alone," she said. "That's why I talk about [my] mental health problems, because I feel like it might help someone going through what I went through."
Gracie is among the 1 in 4 young people in the UK who have experienced suicidal thoughts.
Her comments come as the country marks Children's Mental Health Week, which this year focuses on building the resilience of children and their ability to cope with stressful situations.
In a recent NSPCC report figures show that between 2013 and 2014 over 34,000 ChildLine counselling sessions were about suicide – an increase of 18% compared to 2012/13, and a 116% increase since 2010/11.
Figures from the Department of Health also show that the number of children and young people who have presented to A&E with a psychiatric condition was over 17,000, more than double the figure from 2009.
Although Gracie said mental health services helped her, she believes that there is "definitely room for improvement".
She also feels that many young people do not get the help they need until it's too late, and this is something that needs to be changed.
"You don't really get the help until you ask," she said. "Mental health services need to prevent instead of getting there when it's kind of a little bit too late."
Gracie, who has worked with children in care, said that many of the young service users were vulnerable and had mental health problems that they needed help with. However getting assistance from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services was often a very lengthy process.
"If I knew about the mental health service available when I was younger, I probably would've got help when I was a teenager," she said.
"I had issues that were obvious, [but] they were missed by school, they were missed by my dance school, by a lot of people.
"The services and help were there, but I'd never heard about it. Now that I'm aware of it, I get help, I know what to do. But back then I had no idea."
On Sunday, Gracie was involved in the UK's third annual drive to get young people registered on the electoral roll.
The National Voter Registration Drive, coordinated by the Bite the Ballot (BTB) campaign and its partners, was a seven-day campaign of social action, calling on people to register to vote in order to become "active change makers".
In 2015, BTB encouraged over 400,000 people to register to vote in just one week of community and online campaigning, making it the most successful registration drive (per capita) of any Western democracy, the organisation said.
When the old electoral system was scrapped in December 2015, over a million names fell off the voting register, and many of those were young people and students.
The registration drive aims to target those who have never been registered, as well as those who might be unaware they have recently fallen off the roll.
A spokesman for BTB said mental health was a key issue that young people across the country spoke to them about, and they were campaigning to get the issue on the political agenda.
Gracie said that she wants to get more people involved in politics and to help them understand the importance of voting in order to help change mental health policies.
"Before I joined Bite the Ballot, I had absolutely no idea about the different groups you could vote for, the difference between the Green Party and the Conservatives, for example," she said.
"It's good to make people aware [of politics] because lots of people complain about issues like mental health and education, and don't actually realise things can be changed by the government.
"I don't think that politics reaches working-class people, young people, people that are growing up around varying degrees of poverty, domestic violence, and children in care.
"[These groups of people] need to understand that this country needs them, and we need their voices to be heard."