Jayne Hardy, founder and chief executive, The Blurt Foundation

None of us really feels comfortable with what we are doing, but we can't let that hold us back," explains Jayne Hardy, founder and chief executive of The Blurt Foundation, a digital organisation that exists to help and inspire those affected by depression.

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If you want to change what you are doing, or harbour a secret passion, Hardy believes that taking the first step is crucial. "Don’t spend years thinking about what you really want to do; start taking small steps every day. Whether that’s writing a blog or talking about your plans, you can’t be afraid to try."

Don’t spend years thinking about what you really want to do; start taking small steps every day. You can’t be afraid to try

Hardy’s journey to launching her campaign to increase awareness and understanding of depression began with her own series of small steps after the condition led her to leave her job as an accountant.

"I was ashamed of my illness and unemployed for some time, when I started writing again and began a beauty blog," she says. It was after a post on depression sparked a wave of comments that she began to realise the power of digital platforms for support and communication at a time of intense personal isolation.

"Social media was my window to the outside world; I really got it and understood it in an instinctive and personal way, and that informs everything I do," she adds. Connecting with people online gave Hardy the ability to be honest about her illness in a way that she couldn’t contemplate face-to-face at the time.

"When I had depression I couldn’t leave the house, there was a 12-week waiting list for counselling and I couldn’t face telephone or face-to-face support groups. That is when I went online and couldn’t find what I needed. I felt Blurt could provide that interim support, and it grew from there," she explains.

Now Blurt is a vibrant online community and Hardy is poised to launch a series of podcasts to offer practical support to those living with depression, as well as a care subscription package to encourage people to talk about their mental health. She is also working with schools to help empower young people to talk about their mental wellbeing.

70% of unemployed people suffer from mental health issues

In the 11 years since Hardy was diagnosed with depression, the stigma surrounding mental illness has finally started to reduce. Yet, on a corporate level, there is much still to be done. 

"We all have mental health, and whether it is good or bad it affects everything we do, from our productivity to our relation-ships with others. Corporates don’t let people know who they can even speak to about these issues, and the cost of this silence is significant," she argues.

The challenge ahead

From sick pay to recruitment costs, bottom lines are being hit by this short-sightedness; while the human cost of businesses turning a blind eye is harder to assess (70% of unemployed people suffer from mental health issues), it is fair to conclude that no one is winning.

For Hardy, the challenge is clear. As rugby player Jonny Wilkinson and athlete Dame Kelly Holmes have shown, people can still achieve phenomenal things despite mental illness. In fact, as Hardy proves, sometimes you can achieve great things not in spite of these challenges, but because of them. 

In harnessing the power of digital media to give a voice and bring community to people at their most isolated and vulnerable, Hardy is not just a Digital Maverick, but also a digital pioneer.