• Dr Emma Lawrance

The Birth of It Gets Brighter

This is how it all started.

Discussions about mental health have come a long way in the last decade. But back in 2013, talking openly about experiencing mental illness was hugely stigmatised. When co-Founder Emma Lawrance had experienced mental illness as a teenager, there was no representation of anyone like her in any accessible media, and she felt super alone in what she was going through. Stigma meant she rarely spoke about these experiences. But over the years, whenever a friend confided in her about their mental health challenges, they took huge comfort in hearing about Emma’s own mental illness experiences. They felt far less alone, and took hope and comfort from seeing that it was possible for things to get a lot brighter. Emma strongly felt that if it was possible for people to hear these stories more - hear from people like them, and see the huge breadth of people living rich and varied lives with experiences of mental ill-health - then they would feel less alone and know there was genuine cause for hope.

Meanwhile, co-Founder Josh Chauvin was working with the Mind Your Head campaign, sharing written stories from Oxford University students of their own mental health experiences. These proved hugely popular.

In late 2013, Josh and Emma, alongside a group of fellow students, started to plan what it would look like to take it a step further and develop a video campaign. They were inspired also by the very successful It Gets Better campaign, started by Dan Savage in the USA, to share messages of hope and support for young LGBTQ+ people. With Dan Savage’s blessing to build on these ideas for young people with mental illness, It Gets Brighter was born. It was a rocky road to where It Gets Brighter is today. The first year involved a lot of learning by doing, as the team built a group of volunteers, held strategy days, worked out the core mission and values, started to seek funding, got a logo and website design…but then they needed the videos!

Our vision was to have a tagged, searchable library of video messages of hope and support for young people experiencing mental ill-health - often for the first time - to make sure they didn’t feel alone, and could see the genuine cause for hope. The name ‘It Gets Brighter’ was partly inspired by an interview with Stephen Fry, who spoke of the importance of knowing that the sunshine would come again when he is in the midst of his own mental cloudy day. Alongside the videos to build people’s confidence in the value of seeking help, we wanted to be a funnel to the right support. So we aimed to partner with a wide range of mental health initiatives so we could act as a sign-posting service. We also wanted it to be as easy as possible for people to share their story. Not only would doing so help others, but we knew from our own experiences, that finding the words and courage to share our personal experiences - at a time that felt right - was very helpful to our own recovery.

But how to build our library and get people to submit a video message of hope and support, when there wasn’t anything to show for ourselves at this stage?! Luckily, some very generous people answered our calls (/emails!) and we started to build the video library of wonderful messages from people like Jonny Benjamin - a prominent mental health ambassador - in the UK, and Jeff Kennett - founder of beyond blue - in Australia. We also started partnering with a range of amazing mental health charities, including Student Minds, who really supported us as we learned how to make our vision a reality.

In Jan 2015, after over a year of building, we were ready to launch! We weren’t quite sure what would happen when we went live, but we were thrilled that Stephen Fry tweeted about us, and other media - including BBC world service! - interviewed and featured us. We started to get videos coming in from all over the world. The first was from an incredibly sweet and brave young boy named Scott, sharing his experiences of dyslexia and how it had made him feel. Soon we had videos from Egypt to Canada, Australia to Lebanon.

We ran a series of video making workshops with students and different mental health organisations, and started to build our international network. Because the people working on IGB came from all over the world, we were able to work on the ground in these countries, including IGB Lebanon, and IGB China.

In 2016 we worked to officially become a charity. Learning how to do all these things - from websites to charity paperwork, and from fundraising to partnership building - was a lot on top of our studies, but it was with the generosity of a huge range of wonderful students and leading mental health organisations, advocates and experts globally, that we were able to persist.

Some of the highlights of the It Gets Brighter journey have been when we received testimonials from people, including the mums of a Scout troop who were using our videos to help the Scouts learn about mental health, and someone watching our videos from hospital as they recovered from severe mental distress and found hope and encouragement in our video library. We were thrilled to chair a mental health conference of leading experts on UK mental health in London; to be mentioned in the Economist; to feature in a TEDx talk that Emma gave; and to present at the World Health Organisation Innovation Fair. We ran a JustGiving campaign, and created a campaign video with the generosity of a student film maker. Receiving a £10K cheque in the mail as a result of the campaign was a lifeline to keep us going with the various costs of running IGB. We were so grateful to all who contributed.

There have been so many people who have contributed to IGB and made it what it is today, and we are forever grateful. In particular, meeting Will Hill and his team from Charity Nest in 2020 made a huge difference to our ability to build a sustainable organisation, particularly with the pandemic stopping our on the ground activity and volunteer team building.

We are so delighted that after years of struggle, we have a new website, and a new partnership with Batyr, to carry on the legacy of It Gets Brighter and help create a community of connection, care and hope. It can and does get brighter.