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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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Mental Health Awareness ‘Day’

Mental Health Awareness ‘Day’

The 10th of October was World Mental Health Day and I have a confession: I’m exhausted. Not just this day in particular, it’s been creeping up for a while. The difficulty sleeping, the irrational thoughts, the intense headaches. My head feels so heavy that my only response is to lie down, which subsequently results in me not wanting to get back up. My ability to get up in the morning has diminished, so my 7am start times seem impossible. Even when I manage to get to sleep my dreams are, for want of a better word, unnerving. They serve as a reminder that I still have obstacles to conquer. Heck, I couldn’t even time this post right I’m so all over the place.

I have many things on my to-do list. Paint the walls, defrost the freezer, deal with my Grandmother’s death, wash the dishes, put in my prescription, iron my clothes, battle my demons, paint some more and last but not least, pretend that it’s all okay. It’s not. But that’s okay.

One of my recurring dreams at the moment is that my Grandmother is alive. In most of them she has died and then comes back, sometimes when I wake up I think they’re real. But they’re not. I’ve discovered so far that my grief comes in waves, most days I genuinely feel like she’s going to come back (or that she’s still here). Other days, but rarely in comparison, I sit and think about our various exchanges and get upset knowing they’ll never happen again. I found myself on Google maps the other day looking at where she used to live, digitally walking down the roads I used to when I was little. Then she moved closer to us. Then she moved in with us. Then she lived in a hospital bed in our front room. Then she stopped living. A part of me did too.

It’s strange to have to accept the fact that you will never see someone again. All the questions you wish you’d asked will never be answered. It’s a weird numbing sensation, that can’t say I’ve never encountered before but the circumstances are different. I’ve come to realise that it’s undoubtedly my body’s survival mechanism, something it has become accustomed to over the past 2 years. A way to stop the floodgates from opening and subsequently submerging your mind. Why feel pain when you can feel nothing?

My Grandmother was always my favourite. Any excuse to sing her praises and I’d be off, telling as many anecdotes as I could until the recipient zoned out. She always had sweet stuff in her fridge and her encouragement for us to eat its contents was never ending. She had an infinite list of superstitions with a zest for life that was incomparable to anyone. And now she’s gone. I can’t even put into words how odd it is. It’s like it hasn’t registered that I’ll never hear her voice again or see her cheeky smile. I’m writing words but I don’t feel the emotion they depict. I’m in a familiar fog for an unfamiliar reason.

But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already in the fog. It seems easier for me to say that my current mental state is because of my Grandmother’s passing, even though it’s not. It’s just how my brain works. I feel less ashamed about it when I insinuate that there is a specific cause. But in all honesty there isn’t always a reason. Fleeting between a combination of different factors to absolutely no cause whatsoever. I’ve also found that some people just cannot fathom the idea that depression can pop up when it wants to – it’s more comfortable for them to pin point a root cause.

That’s another thing I’ve come across quite a few times. People may be suffering terribly and others may know about it. But nobody reaches out. Because they feel uncomfortable. The void that ensues just festers into bitterness and self hatred. The illness takes up the space where comfort from friends should have been. And before you know it you’re consumed. The well gets deeper and darker. You have no energy to even attempt to start climbing. There is no-one around to throw down a rope and help you. And you convince yourself that no-one is helping because no-one likes you and no-one cares. 

It’s all fine and well to promote mental health awareness. Whether that is on the dedicated day itself (the 10th of October) or the week (13th to the 19th of May 2019) or even every now and then. But I must stress that there is a difference between sharing a quote on Instagram and actually reaching out to someone in need. I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s unlikely that someone suffering from a mental illness will reach out when it has already consumed them. I speak from experience but can appreciate that this isn’t the case for everyone (and I applaud whoever has the strength and courage to do so!).

Random acts of kindness are greatly encouraged nowadays. I must admit that, in my opinion, there is nothing more selfless than overcoming ones own uncomfortableness in order to help another. That applies to all situations, not just mental health. It’s indescribably difficult to get yourself out of the depths of despair. Internally crying out for help but the words cannot leave your mouth. You don’t want to reach out for fear of being a burden. So you don’t. But some kind words from someone who cares can just maybe begin the steps to recovery. Sometimes it can be the difference between life and death.

Check out Louise Bowns blog on our partner site AMHA, a social share platform to give anyone with mental health and autism an equal voice, check it out!

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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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