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Mental Illness is not a fashion trend

Mental Illness is not a fashion trend

To live with a mental illness can be a very lonely and isolating time in a person’s life, a fact I know very well still battling my way to recovery as I write this. We all know the statistics, in the U.K. 1 in 4 are suffering from a mental illness. Sadly, so many are suffering in silence and far too many are losing their lives to Mental Illnesses, one sad example this year was Claire Greaves who lost her battle with Anorexia.

When I began blogging about my physical disabilities, Mental Health and Autism through AMHA and the charity Fixers last year. I joined a growing online community that had been working hard to dismantle decades of stigma, misunderstandings, myths and negativity surrounding mental health through real stories about their own lives and experiences. As blogging is not my best skill struggling with dyslexia, being a more creative person, I decided to launch a new anti-stigma clothing and accessories brand called Whatlabel in spring 2018, hoping to compliment the work I do raising awareness around Autism, Mental Health and disabilities.

MENTAL ILLNESS. ITS NOT A FAD. ITS NOT A FASHION TREND. ITS NOT A HALLOWEEN THEME.

Why clothing though? When done right, clothing is a great way to promote awareness, after all clothes are used to express ourselves, they can act as a great canvas for artists and designers. Although I had a very clear picture about what i would design, I didn’t go in blind. I took some inspiration from some other mental health clothing companies like WearYourLabel, Fandabby and Schizophrenic.nyc who all have their own values, unique branding and designs based on their own experiences around mental illness. I also took note of independent sellers on platforms like Etsy, which is a great place to find some amazing handmade mental health themed accessories made by some very talented artists and designers.

Although I felt clothing would be a great way of taking what I was doing online into the real world, I was also extremely aware of  how mental illness has been abused through fashion and the media, and im not just talking about how Mental Illness has been used as a theme for Horror, or the ridiculous Halloween costumes that pop up every year, (just to name a few examples).

What I didn’t expect was to find dozens of startup businesses with their own websites, aswell as independent sellers using platforms like eBay, Amazon, or sites like Zazzle or Cafepress (which frequently appear in the mental health search results), where it is apparently deemed acceptable to sell cheap mental health themed wholesale clothing and accessories which can be found on marketplaces like AliExpress, as if it’s some kind of fashion trend to jump on. Most of the designs have been created with no thought, using tacky cliché stigmatising designs, printed on see-through cheap material. Many of the slogans are not only offensive, but distasteful and rude.

 

Would you wear a t-shirt with “Medicated for your protection” slapped across?

This made me stop and think about what I was creating. I knew it would be essential to ensure I made it clear from day one what WhatLabels missions and values would be. I wanted to make it clear WhatLabel has been created by someone who really does understand. I have only ever wanted to promote awareness, acceptance and share resources to helps those suffering.

Although some home truths will be popping up in my designs, plus my take will be different when designing for Autism and Disabilities. My focus will be on promoting wellness and encouraging messages, especially around recovery, and enduring those dark lonely days when all you can do is just sit and look as a TV screen. I want those struggling out in the real world when they see my designs to feel they are not alone.

To see my clothing, something I spent months designing now roaming around the Barbican Centre on the backs of people this summer was a very surreal moment for me. To have a big organisation wanting to wear my clothing and contribute to raising awareness gave me hope and the energy to keep doing my little bit to highlight the struggles of others.

If you would like to support Whatlabel, you can do so through donation or purchasing of any of our clothing, profit raised this year is being used to support Mental Health Charities like Clearly Speaking, a Special needs family centre in Buckingham who support thousands of families and young people every year who have mental illnesses, autism, various disabilities and special needs. Find out more

 

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Slack Community for Mental Health

Slack Community for Mental Health

Access to mental health support is primarily in-person. However, with today’s changing tide with the rise of online solutions, why hasn’t the general population embraced initiatives towards online mental support? 

Teens and young adults don’t necessarily see the stigma that the older generation faces with mental illness, but often resist in-person support. As this demographic spends more time on their mobile device, psychologists and psychiatrists have seen an influx of their patients turn to the web. 

According to Mike Likier, PhD, ACT, Psychologist, Diplomate, Academy of Cognitive Therapy, “In my interactions with college students, I’ve heard many say ‘I don’t want to be seen walking up those steps to the counseling center’ out of fear of being judged. As far as we’ve come with reducing stigma, we’re not there yet. Online support groups could serve as a bridge to get those folks to the help they need, or at least provide a forum for a deeper level of conversation that may not be available with their current peer group.” 

Online support around mental health is currently not the norm. However, a number of therapy support groups have begun to pop up. One non-profit Crisis Text Line, offers free text support. They have reported that 75% of its users are younger than 25, with the majority between 14 and 17 years old.¹ The data speaks, so why hasn’t the mental health community shifted online? 

As someone who has lost close friends to mental illness, I have dedicated myself to provide support. My close family friend Louis passed away after struggling for 3 years with schizoaffective disorder / bipolar type 1. The onset of Louis’ psychosis occurred when he was 19, first hospitalized in October 2014. From childhood through high school, Louis was happy, athletic, musically gifted, made friends easily, and achieved outstanding academic success. He was subsequently hospitalized three more times for durations of several weeks to months. 

In March of 2017, Louis once again rejected therapy due to medication side effects along with non-acceptance of his condition, making it nearly impossible to manage. Two months later, in the throes of psychosis, he did not understand the danger posed by the nearby river. It is presumed that he perished on June 4, 2017. 

Following his passing, I wanted to do more. I teamed up with one of my closest friends, David Markovich who has an expertise in online community building, growing his digital marketing community Online Geniuses to over 10,000 members and running events in over 23 countries. We have now built an online community around mental health called 18percent.org. At any given moment, 18 percent of the United States population, suffers from some mental illness.² 

Conversation on 18percent.org 

18percent’s goal is for members to learn from valuable resources, make long lasting friendships, and share their story. We aspire to be the largest online community for people struggling with mental illness with a long-term mission to end the stigma of mental illness. 

According to Wendy Feinman, School Psychologist, “Social media has become one of the preferred ways that teen-agers communicate with each other. Many students are hesitant to reach out for formal counseling, but may be willing to reach out to online sites to get advice about problems. High school students have voiced that they would like there to be more suicide prevention that can reach their peers who are troubled. A Suicide Prevention group that is coupled with a suicide hotline may be one vehicle to help youth who experience suicidal ideation or other mental health problems. This site would need to be carefully monitored, be able to provide good support for students, and provide appropriate guidance.” 

18percent is hosted on Slack, an internal chat service that offers “channels” for community members to hang out and spark conversation. All emails are hidden, protecting anonymity. Moderating is key for this community to offer a safe environment and avoid such issues such as cyber bullying. 18percent has begun to recruit volunteers to moderate the site with the plan to team up with the Suicide Hotline, to provide around the clock moderators. 

To our excitement, 18percent has become more than a community focused around mental health. It is a group of people who are building real relationships, sharing their emotional challenges, and to our delight discussing their favorite artists, Netflix shows and weekend plans. 

1  https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/2017/12/09/teens-young-adults-texting-help-during-crisis/931524001/ 

2  http://www.newsweek.com/nearly-1-5-americans-suffer-mental-illness-each-year-230608 

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Labels are for jars. Not People.

Labels are for jars. Not People.

Well. If you would be telling me back 4 years ago while I was in the darkest time of my life and start of my recovery that I was going to be an award-winning mental health blogger. I probably wouldn’t believe you at all and would tell you to clear off in a polite manner.

I was fighting mental illness undiagnosed since I was 14. I got told I had suspected Social Phobia Disorder & Depression when I was 17 but I wasn’t allowed any medication as I was under 18 so they just made me go to camhs and I’m not being ungrateful at all but they just said it was a teenager phrase that I’d grow out off and didn’t offer me any support as it was just “hormones”  then I finally got diagnosed properly in 2017 at 20 years old.

About 7 years, thinking I was going crazy inside my brain and people just blamed it on my hormones as I was a teenager and said it was a phrase I needed to get out of. Which made me feel so more alone that I wasn’t being taken seriously as I was just a 14 year old and they just blamed it on the teenage years.

Labels are for Jars, Not People.

 

This isn’t a hateful rant to the NHS as they are doing an amazing job with low funding but I just wish I had some support when I kept going back with the same symptoms and maybe I would be better?

But who knows?

I was too scared to talk as I knew that it would be blamed on hormones as I was a teenage girl and of course periods.

I wish I kept going back and fighting for a second opinion but at that time I just didn’t have the energy or confidence to get my opinion across and shout that I needed help and support. I used to be so ashamed of being ill. I used to blame and punish myself for feeling low and crying till 2am on school nights as I didn’t want to go to school as I felt so low.

You wouldn’t have been stuck in a house for 365 days at seventeen years old just because of hormones, would you? I know I’m no doctor, but I knew something was wrong. Since finally being diagnosed with depression and social phobia disorder I feel like a rock has been lifted and that I’m finally being listened too and being taken seriously.

I used to be so quiet and shy as I knew I’d get a weird reaction if I told people I was battling depression and social phobia. But now, I’m like if you can’t take my bad days you don’t deserve my awesome days.

I never had a voice then as stigma and my illness took over my voice. Now it’s my time to make sure mental illness and stigma what is attached to mental health knows that I’m the boss and I’ve got my voice back and it’s not going anywhere even when I’m having low days.

It’s not the best news I’ve ever had, and I was upset and angry for 2 days when I got told my diagnosis, but you know what? I’m happy that I’ve got my diagnosis because I knew, that I was right, and everyone was wrong. I knew what I was facing, and I knew what I was battling and I knew my recovery is going to be around the corner one day.

I’ve gained so much confidence since speaking out that I am ill, and I’m not scared of the stigma anymore.I’ve gained so many friends in the mental health blogging community. I’m writing for charities and back when I was 17, I thought I had no hope and I thought that I wasn’t good enough to be writing about a subject what is so close to my heart.

But I am good enough.

I’m speaking up for more people who need their voices back.

In the Aldridge/Brownhills community, I’m finally speaking out in my own hometown about mental health and it feels bloody amazing!

  • I’ve had relapses in my journey.
  • I’ve had bad times and good times.
  • I’ve had tears and smiles.
  • I’ve had horrible thoughts and happy thoughts.
  • I’m not a victim of mental illness. I battle it, yeah, but it isn’t me.
  • I define me. No illnesses will define me.
  • I’ve had times where I hated my body and myself but times where I love my body and myself.

Last week was so intensive and bad, I thought I was going insane in my head and I didn’t want to fight anymore. But this week is a new week and I am determined to make It a good week. But you know what? That’s completely fine. As It’s okay not to be okay!

Stigma use to get me down so much and use to make me feel ashamed. But when someone does say something nasty to me about my illness, I don’t listen to them as they probably aren’t educated enough and that’s upsetting really as they could be going through with it, and they wouldn’t even know. I tend to educate them and they thank me later!

  • I’m a stigma fighter and proud.
  • I’m a mental health advocate and I’m so bloody proud to be one.
  • I’m Shannon and I bloody define me!
  • Labels are for jars. Not for people.

Talking does save lives. I’m the living proof that it does even on my bad days.

Big thank you to Samaritans for last week being my shoulder to cry on when times were so exhausting at 4am when everyone was asleep.

Big thank you to my family for looking after me when I was so low and I didn’t want to talk about what I was feeling but you managed to talk to me and you helped.

Big thank you to my Nan for noticing the symptoms that I was getting worse and booking me that most important doctor appointment last Friday what saved my life.

Big shout out to my amazing doctor! Dr Flenley as he finally listened to me and I probably wouldn’t have been here today without his kind words and actually helped me. He’s a credit to Aldridge and Portland Medical Practice.

We need more doctors like him!

Till next time.

Love, Shannon Diana x

Read more from Shannon DIanna via AMHA

 

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