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“When I was struggling with anxiety and depression, poetry saved my life”

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Megan Murray
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Jaspreet Kaur tells Stylist how creative expression positively influenced her mental health. 

Jaspreet Kaur is many things. By day, she’s a history teacher with an impressive academic background in history and gender studies. But she’s also an award-winning spoken word artist, a poet, a writer, a TED Talk-er, one half of social change YouTube channel #TeamHothi and the creator of brand Behind the Netra

From the outside, Kaur is successful and confident, a pro at public speaking who performs her poetry to  large crowds of people. But that’s not always been the case. Her teenage years were ravaged by mental health issues like anxiety and depression, which at points even held her back from getting out of bed in the morning.  

There’s one big change that Kaur made to her life that helped her manage all of this – and that change was writing poetry.

“Poetry literally saved my life,” she tells Stylist. “I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety since the age of 13 and at that point I had no idea what was happening to me. I didn’t even know what depression was. [I was] too concerned about trying to fit in and be a cool kid.”

She couldn’t bear the thought of telling people that she had “anxiety attacks that make my heart beat really fast or make me cry continuously or [make me not] want to get out of bed,” Kaur continues.

“Trying to tell anybody at that age about it, I just thought nobody was going to get it.” As a result, she kept herself “shut off” from others.

Kaur explains that poetry had a dramatic effect on her mental health. “It’s not like I could talk about how I felt. That made me feel so isolated, so alone, so angry and I think it just added more to the anxiety and the depression. So about the age of 13, that’s when I started writing the poetry and turning that chaos in my mind into something beautiful.”

Kaur eventually went to see her GP about her mental health struggles, but creativity can be a brilliant form of therapy in its own right. Kaur points to a 2002 study that suggested the NHS could save almost £200,000 a year in antidepressant costs by asking patients to write poetry.

The research indicated that writing poems provides people with a form of “emotional release” that helps them feel calmer and more relaxed, she explains. “This has a huge impact on your self-esteem and your self-confidence. You’re starting to take ownership of your own thoughts.”

On her doctor’s advice, Kaur began a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) while continuing to write. “That combination of CBT and poetry was life-changing,” she says.

“I can now stand in front of the mirror and love who I see. When I found poetry, it was literally like I found my own inner superhero, my own inner confidence, and I could turn all those negative emotions into something beautiful on a page. And because of that I never felt alone. I made it through my battle with depression and I survived.”

If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, Kaur recommends trying to express yourself through poetry as well as visiting your GP for professional advice.

“Find your story, write it, release it, share it,” she says. “It might just save your life.”

If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, please visit Mind for help and support.

If you’d prefer to speak to someone in person, you can call them on 0300 123 3393. Their lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).

Alternatively, you can email them at info@mind.org.uk, or text using the number 86463.

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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