Nadiya Bakes

Mental Health Awards: Nadiya Hussain deserves so much praise for sharing her anxiety story with the world

Posted by for People

From anxiety to postnatal depression, Stylist’s Mental Health Awards is spotlighting a year of TV shows that portrayed mental health issues in the most accurate and compassionate way.     

Anxiety affects more than 8 million people in the UK – making it the most common form of mental health disorder. Despite its prevalence and highly treatable nature, there has long been a deep-rooted stigma around the condition, making it difficult for many to talk about it.

In her critically-acclaimed documentary, though, Bake Off’s Nadiya Hussain made a point of opening up about the severity of her condition and tackling it head-on.

During the TV programme, Hussain explained how she used structured routines and activities to help distract her from her constant feelings of worry. Despite these coping mechanisms, though, she still experienced regular panic attacks and a constant sense of anxiety.

“That feeling of worry is always there. I might appear happy and relaxed but it’s not how I feel,” she said. “A panic attack makes me feel like I’m going to die. Imagine spending your whole life thinking you are going to die every single day.”

Conscious of the effect this debilitating disorder was having not just on her but on those around her (she explained that her anxiety had seen her lose friends and pile pressure on herself), Hussain met with a cognitive behavioural therapist during the show. 

It was through these intimate CBT sessions that viewers learned her anxiety stemmed from the severe bullying she experienced at school: racist bullies would pull her hair out, slam her fingers in doors until all her fingernails fell out, and flush her head down the toilet.

“I still have that memory of the water going up my nose and feeling like if they don’t pull me up now I am going to drown with my head in this toilet,” she said.

Recalling how she hid under a sink and had her first panic attack, Hussain added: “If I could erase my memory, then I would take that one memory out of my head, because that memory is always there.”

Diagnosing Hussain with a panic disorder, her therapist, Paul, went on to reassure her by explaining that research shows 80% of people treated for the disorder can recover. 

Nadiya: Anxiety & Me was met with critical acclaim, clocking up 4 and 5-star reviews across the board. More telling, though, is the fact that viewers took to Twitter to praise Hussain, calling her an “example to everyone”.

“Massive credit to @BegumNadiya for being so frank and open about anxiety. As a fellow sufferer I really believe that normalising anxiety/depression is the way forward,” tweeted one.

Another added: “@BegumNadiya is such a role model for speaking out about her battle with anxiety. “If more people in the public eye like her talked about mental health it would have much less of a stigma. Nadiya, you’re fabulous and you’ll help so many people for doing this.”

And still one more said: “I love love love @BegumNadiya and the important work she does. Not just making the world’s best cakes, but also raising awareness and sharing her story about real mental health issues. What a brilliant woman she is. We need more like her.”

In a world where nearly nine in 10 people with mental health problems say stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives, Hussain’s candour and bravery is absolutely deserving of such praise. Not only has she used her profile to normalise a very common condition, but, in doing so, she’s helped people to feel less alone. She’s given a voice to their fears. She’s reminded them that anyone, even someone as famous as she is, can be impacted by anxiety.

As Hussain herself says: “Why am I making this documentary? Partly because I’m selfish, and I want to get better. And partly because I know that having anxiety is one of the most lonely and most isolating things to have, because you are your own worst enemy and you live inside your head.

“I know there are thousands of people out there, who suffer just like me. And we need to talk. That’s half the healing. We need to talk.”

She’s 100% correct, of course: the best possible thing those who suffer with anxiety can do is ask for help. Support is there, after all.

All we need do is ask. 

It is incredibly difficult for sufferers to put anxiety symptoms into words – and it is often mistaken by others as nothing more than a general state of worry.

However true anxiety is far more distressing than this, usually involving a sense of danger or threat, of not being able to cope with what might happen – a “nameless dread” that provokes such physically real symptoms that it can be debilitating.

For more information on anxiety, including what it is and how to cope, you can check out NHS Every Mind Matters or visit the Mind website.

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Images: Lucy Williams Photography

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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