Olivia Bowden, a dedicated mental health coach and author, is on a mission to create a positive impact on the lives of adolescents struggling with mental health
She tells us that, “ I have worked in the field of mental health for over a decade, on a 1-1 basis and also delivering workshops and peer support groups (across West Yorkshire and London) on various topics, such as:
Author of several books such as:
‘I Hate The Way I Look’
‘Living With A Disability’
‘A Pocket Guide Through Heartache’
Known across London’s ‘Shaw Trust hubs’ for peer support groups, and supported people in changing their lives, through their mental health and mindset.
At a very young age, I struggled with body dysmorphic disorder, bulimia nervosa and panic disorder. Once diagnosed, I realised that I wasn’t the only person who had this diagnosis; then immersed myself into healing and studying. Whilst going through the healing process, I captured progress in my journal, noting what works and what doesn’t. My biggest finding was that in order to heal, one must first understand how the mind works, including how beliefs and habits are formed and how to break the cycle of negative thinking patterns. Once someone has an awareness of their mind, they can see what stage they are at and measure their progress as they heal.
From this insight, I have put together an animated body image programme to show others how the mind works and how to come away from mental health disorders. Puberty is the time that many people start to self loathe, due to rapid physical and emotional changes and so, I feel that, if we can educate, around this age, the risk of self-loathing is reduced, if not erased.”
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your professional journey/venture/initiative and what inspired you to choose this career.
I had a difficult childhood. I have CPTSD because of this. My mum has learning difficulties and I took on the role as Mother, my dad is verbally abusive and male dominant. I had two brothers who had an easy time due to being male, while the females had a different treatment. I lived childhood as the emotional sponge for my mum to offload her problems on to, as well as doing all the housework and chores for all the family, from the age of 11. I’ve always naturally been a good guide for others that go through strife. I didn’t want to do counselling as this triggered too many childhood difficulties for me, mainly the feeling of being trapped whilst someone off loads. I can do it in small quantities but not all day, every day. That’s why I love coaching as it focuses on the present moment and future. Only the first session is used for fact finding around someone’s past. I have been a mental health coach for 15 years now and as I struggled with body image myself, I am most passionate about supporting adolescents with this.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
Yes, I was 30, and just split up from my partner. I was heartbroken and convinsed that he wasn’t attracted to me anymore. This fuelled my body dysmorphic disorder to a point where I was having 7 panic attacks daily. I finally went to my GP and was diognosed with BDD. From then on, I immersed myself in all things healing and studied the mind so that I could gauge what was going on with myself. From there I started my coaching journey in mental health, working with all age groups and all mental health disorders.
Tell us about your goals, interests, and role models.
My goal is to be a successful business woman and author. I am very driven, I think it is a capricorn thing, lol and want to see this business succeed so that adolescents across the UK have the support they need. Potentially, this programme could save the NHS a lot of money in therapy costs, as I get results in a 6-12 week time scale for those that are going through BDD and/or eating disorders.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
Of course. My biggest challenge has been my finances. Since starting this social enterprise, I have needed to cover my outgoings as I have gone from being an employee of an organisation, to now being the employer. They say the first year is the hardset and that is so true. The momentum is slow, but it is moving and we have great feedback from schools and teens that have gone through the programme. I should be getting a paid job. People close to me keep asking if I’m earning enough. It’s hard to say that I have been doing this freely to build momentum and make sure this works, so when I respond with a ‘no‘ to people, they look at me blank, as if to say, well why aren’t you getting a job then. I know people mean well, I think people have this perspective that you’re either a successful business person or you’re not. I’m in the inbetween bit, but the passion I have is so deep that it has to work and it is working, just not fast. I would say to others, give yourself longer that you feel it will take, as you will need it.
What impact do you feel you have been able to create with your work so far and how would you want to grow in the next few years?
We have supported teenagers to come away from their mental disorders and start their healing journey. The programme offers psycho-educational animated workshops and 1-1 coaching. We also offer therapy if needed. We see great results in young people and schools, and it makes it all worthwhile. In the next two years I want to be selling 20 programmes per day, and because we are a social enterprise, we can pour any profit back into the UK. I’d really like to support homelessness and animals with those profits.
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
As this is an on-line service, available globally, the pandemic has supported this. I haven’t been affected as much as others I know. I was working for an organisation in the first lock down and was able to transfer my face to face role, to on-line, until April this year. The contract/funding ended in April and I had a small amount of redundancy pay that has kept me going but soon it will run out. That is my inspiration to keep going!
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
I guess the biggest one for me, is when a teenager is feeling suicidal when they start working with us, and after 6-12 weeks, they no longer need us and are feeling able to cope and have a real grasp of their healing, where they are at and what they need to do. They understand that this journey is life-long, not just in the time frame that we have together. When I can see the shifts in them and their mental health, I feel very proud to be doing this and this is what I was born for.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
Oh gosh, where to start. Let’s have more women leaders in parliament. Let’s ease up on school curriculum and homework, it really stresses kids out and is too much. Let’s focus on changing the curriculum to invest in job applications, CV’s, interview skills, life skills, economy, being green and looking after Mother earth. budgeting etc. Skills that we need when we leave school. Let’s ban single use plastic!! and oil digging and getting rid of Rishi Sunak as he clearly doesn’t care for Mother Earth. Let’s hone in more on children and their home life so that we can give them the best start. Let’s make all wages equal and everyone gives 10% of their wage to the rest of the world so that we can support third world countries. Let’s stop war and sack those that represent it. Let us all help our neighbour (countries and people) so that no one is left without what they need.
What’s the most important thing you have learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
I’ve realised we are all fickle and people will love you and leave you. You can be upset or you can move on. It happens to us all, we cannot stop it and we probably do it ourselves also.
Professionally, you learn more by doing all those shitty jobs you don’t want to do, to get you where you need to be. I didn’t like being a carer, hostel worker, support worker but those jobs, i learned lots and it lead me to being a coach in mental health. Choose your path wisely and don’t be afraid to start at the bottom, but make sure the bottom step of the ladder is in the field of work you need to be in. A manager can start as an admin, A social worker can start as an apprentice and so on. And lastly, no one is judging you but you. And if they are, it is because they have their own issues going on. Express yourself in colourful ways and don’t be afraid to dye your hair pink! if you want to 🙂
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
I feel that women and men are equal, and coming from a male dominated family, I think women in leadership is a must. We have empathy, we feel emotions on a deeper level and we need this. We need to care for one another and women know this, only some men see this.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
If you have a dream, fulfil it, if you sit on it, it will pass you by and you will regret it. Try until you die is my motto. When I leave this Earth, I will feel satisfied, regardless of whether I became successful or not. That’s what it’s all about. And when you get to the top, pour your wealth across your land and show others that women in power are selfless and that is why we succeed.