Theatre student's film has helped put panic attacks on centre stage
Theatre student Lydia Hague comes across as a confident young woman.
But beneath the surface lies a hidden pool of anxiety that can strike at any time.
The 21-year-old University of Chichester music and theatre student suffers from panic attacks, despite her love of the stage, and knows looking confident is not the same as feeling confident.
Lydia wants to raise awareness of the condition to help others understand extreme anxiety and learn how to deal with it effectively.
She is working with Fixers, a charity that gives young people a voice, to make a film showing how to help someone suffering from a panic attack.
“On the surface I seem like a really confident person but I suffer from panic attacks which can strike at any moment,” explained Lydia.
“A crowded situation is usually the trigger. I struggle with my breathing, my chest gets very tight, sometimes I shake or I can’t physically move and I feel unsafe.
“People often accuse me of looking dazed or drunk and others have just told me to calm down or to stop being a drama queen.
“Attacks are more common than people think and I want to let others know that not everyone’s experiences are the same.”
The two-minute film, called Don’t Judge, Just Understand, shows a young woman entering a canteen and expresses her feelings as her panic begins to rise.
It goes on to show the reactions from others in the canteen, which are mainly judgemental and lack sympathy.
Finally, a friend realises she genuinely cannot breathe and helps to take her outside.
Lydia said: “Letting people know how to deal with panic attacks would be a huge benefit.
“I hope my project will encourage people not to judge. If I help just one person not to feel isolated then I think that’s my job well done.”
The film points out that everyone suffers panic attacks differently and the way they deal with them varies. In Lydia’s case, she likes to be taken to an outside space and have a glass of water while she calms her breathing down.
She asks people not to judge or ask why, just to help to fix it for the person affected.
Dave Corcoran, head of student support and wellbeing from the University of Chichester, is supporting Lydia’s campaign.
He said: “People don’t always know how to reach out and help someone.
“I think people should pause for a moment and try and find out from that individual what they can do.”
Fixers works with young people aged 16 to 25 across the UK by providing them with resources to help them campaign on issues they feel strongly about.
The charity has helped more than 19,000 youngsters across the UK to have a voice in their community on issues such as cyber-bullying, self-harm, suicide or transphobia.
Since 2008, more than 19,000 young people in England have become Fixers and created around 2,000 projects.
Lydia, who comes from Haywards Heath, wanted to put panic attacks on centre stage, with Fixers’ help.
She explained: “Although I’m a theatre student and I love performing in public, I suffer from panic attacks.
“These attacks can be triggered by crowded places and can cause breathing difficulties, physical immobility and shaking.
“People have sometimes commented that I look ‘drunk’ or that I’m just being a drama queen.
“I want to show others that it’s important not to judge someone having a panic attack and instead offer them some support.
“Helping someone through an attack can stop them feeling isolated.”
With a £7.2million grant from the Big Lottery Fund, Fixers extended into Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland in 2013.
Margo Horsley, chief executive, said: “Fixers started in 2008 as just an idea – an idea given a voice by some 19,000 young people over the past five years. They have reached thousands of people with their work, on a national stage as well as in and around where they live.
“They choose the full array of social and health issues facing society today and set about making their mark.
“Fixers are always courageous and their ideas can be challenging and life-changing, not just for themselves.”
There are lots more stories about young people doing great things on the Fixers website, Twitter and Facebook pages.
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