Ebony Ali: ‘As a society we need to be more accountable for each other’

Ebony Ali.

Ebony Ali. - Credit: Archant

Six years after suffering a mental breakdown, Ebony Ali is doing all that she can to support young people going through similarly turbulent times.

The cover for Ebony's book - Beauty for Ashes - which is out now.

The cover for Ebony's book - Beauty for Ashes - which is out now. - Credit: Archant

Ebony Ali was about to start her final year at university when she suffered a psychotic episode and was sectioned in a Lambeth mental institute, where she would stay for three months.

"I was under a lot of stress," she says, recounting those troubling days back in the summer of 2013. "I was dealing with a heartbreak, I realised I wasn't really sleeping much, and that was kind of causing me to - not hallucinate per se - but I had a lot of anxiety, and I started to get really paranoid. I believed people were against me and wanted to hurt me, there was a lot of over-thinking every little thing. It was a really confusing time."

Six years later and Ebony is in a much better place. She sounds chirpy and in good spirits when we speak on the phone, as she walks to work as a Maths and English tutor for a social enterprise that supports young entrepreneurship. Ebony is also now a published author, after her memoir Beauty for Ashes came out in November 2018.

"It's a short story about a lot of different experiences," Ebony explains. "It has a lot to do with my upbringing - my mum has schizophrenia and it covers a lot of the things I went through as a child, in to my teenage years, through college and uni experiences, and all the different factors that contributed to the breakdown I had. I speak a lot about that, and talk about my faith, too."

Ebony at a book signing event at a WH Smith's store earlier this year.

Ebony at a book signing event at a WH Smith's store earlier this year. - Credit: Archant

Ebony was born in Homerton Hospital and raised in Dalston. She went to Northwold Primary School before moving out of Hackney at the age of 12, continuing her education across the border at Islington's Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School. Now aged 25, she was two-thirds of the way through an International Relations and Journalism course at De Montfort University, Leicester, when her mental health deteriorated.

"I wasn't sure who I could trust. It got to a point where I was in a really bad place; I thought the TV was sending me a message. I started to have fits of rage, it was like something out of a movie. I tried to break the door off its hinges at my grandparents, they didn't know what was happening to me and it took me a while to realise that this wasn't a dream - it was real.

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"After fighting it for so long, my cousin said 'do you want to go to hospital?' and I went in as a voluntary patient."

After receiving plenty of encouragement from those around her, Ebony took the decision to start writing an account of her experiences at the end of 2016. I wondered if it might be a cliché to ask if the practice of writing her book had been a therapeutic experience.

"It was very therapeutic," she affirms. "(Writing the book) made me understand and remember my journey, and think about how far I've come.

"There were some low moments while writing it: I had to remember them to give people a real picture of what I went through, but my main idea was to inspire people and give them hope that recovery is possible, and really just to share some of my beliefs."

Throughout our conversation it's hard not to be impressed by Ebony's compassion and unselfish nature. Here is a young woman who has gone through some seriously tough times, and yet she often steers the discussion towards "knowing that what I've gone through can be used to help other people."

Since her episode in 2013, Ebony has returned to university to complete her degree, and last year she travelled to Nigeria where she gave motivational talks at several schools and distributed food and clothing to orphans. Ebony hopes to one day start her own charity dedicated to the recovery of people who suffer with mental health issues.

But what does she make of our society's approach to mental health right now?

"People are becoming more and more aware about mental health issues. I don't think we fully understand it - I still think we're trying - but people are talking a lot more which is good.

"People are still committing suicide: it's like, how does this happen? How can we prevent it? As a society we need to be more accountable for one another, looking out for each other.

Beauty for Ashes by Ebony Ali is out now. For more details, click here.