Speaking up has had a positive effect on my mental health

A man smiling for the camera with London's Gallery behind him

Ross Dunne opens up about an experience that left him anxious and depressed but tells us how talking about things has helped.

It was supposed to be a normal day at school. I was a quiet 13-year-old growing up in South Wales. I liked socialising with my small group of friends, and I was particularly good at music and cricket.

Biology was one of my favourite subjects. I did my best to answer questions in class, but it was my written work that did the talking. In lessons that term I sat next to James (I've changed his name), who was not temperamentally suited to me. I found him difficult to get along with — where I was quiet he was fiercely opinionated, and where I was easygoing he was competitive. As the biology teacher started to ask questions around the class, it was left to me to explain something complicated. I stammered several times as I answered. I sensed I was getting a hard stare from James. As his patience wore thin, he finally snapped. "Stop stammering, you clown!" he shouted. As James tried out his impression of me in front of the whole class, the embarrassment was too much to bear. I tipped my head forward and looked down to the floor. 

He walked away laughing. All of this, just because I stammered.

At lunchtime, not in the mood for talking to any of my friends, I made haste for the gym changing rooms. The lesson after lunch was cricket, which I was looking forward to. The next second, though, I saw James approaching. I struggled to breathe and I was overcome by a terror that made the muscles in my chest constrict. What is he going to do to me? I thought. Why is he even doing this to me? Before I could think any more, James charged and slammed me against the wall. He had me by the scruff of the neck. He looked into my eyes and said with intense hatred, "You're pathetic!". I tried to respond but I could only make stammering sounds. "You can't even talk!" he yelled. James pulled back his other fist and punched the left side of my lower jaw and threw me to the ground. He walked away laughing. All of this, just because I stammered.

I had been stammering since a very young age but started to stammer more after my run-in with James. From then on my stammer became so frequent that it hindered my everyday life. Over the next decade I often found it hard to express myself, which was particularly difficult as a teenager and young adult.

Effects on my mental health

Events like the one I described, among others, have affected my mental health. As someone who stammers, there is nothing more debilitating than the inability to explain yourself with ease. I often get anxious and I am prone to panic when engaging people in conversation. I find it easier when other people initiate a conversation with me. This calms me down. If I happen to have a bad experience — where I stammer and someone makes a negative comment — it can make me feel hopeless and worthless. Depression follows. I have become better at dealing with it, but this remains a challenge every time. 

If I happen to have a bad experience... it can make me feel hopeless and worthless.

I have noticed that I get fewer negative comments about my stammer than I did, but there are some that stick in my mind more than others. Only a month ago in Central London I went into a coffee shop and ordered a flat white and a croissant. However, croissant is not an easy word for me to say. I tried a few times until the barista ordered me to "Spit it out!". 


There are positive experiences, though. Last year I asked a friend for help when preparing for a job interview. It was at a time when my stammer was particularly prominent. I felt so embarrassed when rehearsing my answers with her. At points I was stammering on nearly every word. She reassured me that I came across really well and understood everything I said. Although I was not hired, my friend's encouragement has given me the confidence to apply for more jobs. 

I have noticed already that both my anxiety and depression have improved. 

Moreover, speaking up about my experiences has had a positive effect on my mental health. It has helped me feel like I am making a difference. It has been very liberating and I am now starting to become more confident. I have noticed already that both my anxiety and depression have improved. I hope this is a step in the right direction. 

It puts my mind at ease knowing that other people are going to read about my experiences. I hope this inspires you to speak about your experiences too.

If you are feeling anxious or depressed about stammering, you chat with us. Call our helpline on 0808 802 0002 or start a webchat. You can even use the helpline to practise rehearsing interview answers.

If you'd like to share your experiences, why not Submit Something For The Site?

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Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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