How The Great British Baking Show created a platform for mental health advocacy

For the blog series Listening to Different Voices and Media and Mental Health, hear what British Bake Off participants have to say about their own mental health struggles--along with their words of encouragement for others

It probably isn’t a surprise to anyone if I say I enjoy The Great British Baking Show (aka The Great British Bake Off). It’s a well-known phenomenon at this point. Personally, I had seen episodes here and there, but only recently decided to watch a season from start to finish, and jumped into season four.

Doing so, I found myself curious about contestant Ruby Tandoh. The season’s youngest participant, we also learn while we watch that she’s a college student studying philosophy, and that she’s a talented baker: Spoiler alert (if that’s still a thing for a television show that aired in 2013), she makes it to the finale.

I think I was curious about Ruby at least in part because, despite her success, she seems frankly devoid of any self-confidence. I could relate to her self-defeating comments. The snippets of her thoughts she shared out loud on the show are representative of the inner dialogue that I’ve had during much of my life—and the kind of inner dialogue that is common for people with challenges like anxiety and depression. In fact, these thought patterns are a major focus of cognitive behavioral therapy, and for me, therapy has been really instrumental in helping me change these kinds of self-defeating thoughts. Doing so has done a lot for my self-confidence, as well (in fact, I’d argue self-confidence and negative self-dialogue seem to have a closely-correlated inverse relationship).

I felt for Ruby, and watching her, I wondered what she ended up doing with her life. This month, with Black Lives Matter activism, as well as it being Pride month, I’ve been trying to share quotes from and learn more about members of these communities. I decided that was a good reason to learn a little more about Ruby Tandoh. In the process, I found out not only that she is actually a member of both of those communities, but that she is one of many other British Bake Off stars who have spoken openly about their mental health struggles, and have become advocates of mental wellness.

So, along with Ruby, I decided to share some of the words of wisdom about mental health that have come from other contestants.

What The Great British Baking Show participants have to say about mental health

Ruby Tandoh

Photo: Instagram @ruby.tandoh

Since appearing on season four of The Great British Baking Show, Ruby has modeled a line of dresses, published three books, gotten married, and become a prolific contributor to The Guardian newspaper. She and her wife, Leah Pritchard, also created the mental health zine Do What You Want.

Ruby has spoken about her own mental health, citing struggles with anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder. She has also been open about being bisexual.

Here are her wise words on how to get talking about mental health:

Source: Bake Off's Ruby Tandoh: How sharing food helps my mental health

Source: Ruby Tandoh on battling the stigma of discussing mental health

If you're interested in Ruby Tandoh's books:

If you choose to purchase through this link, a small percentage of what you pay goes to support this website without changing the cost to you.

Michael Chakraverty

Photo: Instagram @mschakraverty

Michael was a contestant in the 2019 season of The Great British Baking Show. He is a theatre manager and fitness instructor.

Michael is gay, and has addressed the importance of being able to be open about who you are. He talks about the loneliness and isolation that can occur when you don’t talk about your feelings and challenges:

“It can be isolating if you can’t voice who you are or how you’re feeling....The [LGBTQ] community feels that a lot, because it’s not seen as normal yet – therefore exploring those parts of your personality can’t happen outwardly, so generally happen inwardly.”

Source: Michael Chakraverty: 'It's Isolating If You Can't Voice Who You Are'

Michael has also stated that he has struggled with depression and anxiety. He has been open about therapy helping him, stating:

“[Through therapy,] I learned a lot about myself, I learned about how I think and how my brain works, and a lot of that was about how I had limited myself quite a lot in my life. And so, at that point, I started thinking, right, I’m going to start doing things that make me uncomfortable.”

Source: Doing more than I thought I could by Michael Chakraverty

That new approach of jumping in is what helped Michael apply to The Great British Bake Off in the first place—an experience he says helped him grow as a person. The challenges of the show—including experiencing a full-blown panic attack in one episode—helped him learn to manage his anxiety. He said:

Source: Michael Chakraverty's anguish behind TV smiles on the Great British Bake Off

His words for others struggling with mental wellness?

Kim-Joy Hewlett

Photo: Instagram @kimjoyskitchen

Kim-Joy Hewlett was a contestant on the 2018 season of The Great British Baking Show. While on the show, she described her job as a “mental health specialist.” She has also stated that she had a career goal of becoming a clinical psychologist.

Kim-Joy herself has struggled with her mental wellness, specifically with social anxiety and selective mutism. She says of her childhood:

“I didn’t really speak when I was at school, I was pretty much mute....I would talk at home, and sometimes I whispered to people, but I was very careful about who could hear me talk; I didn’t want people to know that I could."

Source: Bake Off's Kim-Joy Discusses Experiencing Severe Social Anxiety as a Child

She says that baking was something that helped with her anxiety, and that it was a way to make new friends. Learning to bake, of course, lead to her competing on The Great British Bake Off. A reporter stated the experience "has made Kim-Joy realise that she has nothing to fear from being her true self."

Amazing, isn't it? Doing new things helps our mental health, which in turn helps us do more new things, which in turn helps our mental health. That's a healthy circle I'm going to try to remember.

And what is Kim-Joy's advice for mental wellness?

If you're interested in Kim-Joy Hewlett's books:

If you choose to purchase through this link, a small percentage of what you pay goes to support this website without changing the cost to you.

Nadiya Hussain

Photo: Instagram @nadiyajhussain

Nadiya won the sixth season of The Great British Baking Show in 2015. I think it’s safe to say being on the show changed Nadiya’s life (like that of many other contestants)—since it aired, Nadiya has written several books, become a columnist for The Times Magazine, had her own TV series (two of them), has a collection of kitchen accessories through BlissHome, her own website, and even baked a birthday cake for Queen Elizabeth II.

More than those accomplishments, though, I was interested in what I learned about Nadiya and mental health. This woman had some really hard things happen to her as a child, including being sexually assaulted, experiencing racial slurs, and suffering abuse from bullies. She was diagnosed with panic disorder as a teenager, and has struggled with it throughout her life. She says:

Source: Nadiya Hussain opens up about her panic disorder 'monster'

I thought it was awesome when I found out that Nadiya participated in a documentary about her anxiety called Nadiya: Anxiety and Me, allowing cameras to follow her while getting help for her anxiety.

If you're interested in Nadiya Hussain's (many!) books (on food as well as mental wellness):

If you choose to purchase through this link, a small percentage of what you pay goes to support this website without changing the cost to you.

There are other British Bake Off participants who have talked about their struggles with mental health. I loved learning more about different participants, and love that they have opened up about the topic. Mental health still carries such a stigma, and it does a lot when well-known people start talking about their own mental wellness.

You don’t have to be famous at all, though, to be able to do the same thing. You talking about your own mental health, as well as asking others about theirs, does so much. It allows you to find support, and to support others. It also makes you a mental health advocate, and allows you to help end the stigma and normalize this important area of health and wellbeing.

I hope reading these stories gives you courage to get talking.

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