If ingenuity and authenticity count for anything, and we are serious about reducing the toll of mental illness in the community, then Mitch and Gina will be among the first of millions worldwide to have a heart tattooed or drawn on their sleeve.
Each heart will represent a show of strength, a personal story of survival and a message to others in pain or teetering on the edge: you are not alone, I have struggled with mental health too, and we can help each other get through.
The Heart on My Sleeve Movement urges anyone who has a mental health story to draw or tattoo a heart on their forearm, then take a picture and upload it to Facebook, Instagram (@heartonmysleevemovement) or Twitter (@HOMS_movement) with the hashtag #heartonmysleeve.
The key is what accompanies the selfie.
HOMSM wants you to write your mental health experience in the caption and especially note how it has helped you grow as a person, so that the message might help others who feel alone and struggling.
Wallis envisioned the Heart on My Sleeve Movement after recognising last year that his career success at Microsoft was concealing his lifelong battle with mental illness.
“I was living the absolute dream but the constant behind it was that I was barely holding it together,” Wallis says. “I had suffered depression and anxiety since I was at an age when a kid shouldn’t even have to know what those words meant. Then last year the bandaids I’d been applying from the age of nine started coming apart. Stresses built up. I thought I was managing okay, but eventually I could barely leave my room I was so anxious. One day I fell to my knees, in tears. When I was almost at point of suicide at work, no poster or message from a charity was going to help me.”
The former Mosmanite and Sydney University student made a promise to himself. “If I get out of this I will do everything in my f—ing powers to make sure no one else has to go through it.”
Heart on My Sleeve in effect flips the conversation about mental health, from having to wait until someone asks R U OK? to focusing on showing those who might be hiding out of fear that others have similar lived experiences and that they can help if you own your story, too.
Wallis’ idea is pitched in particular at millennials – the 13 to 35-year-olds who in their social media bubbles have learnt to be very picky about whom they trust. As such, many millennials are wary of sharing their struggles or appearing vulnerable.
The inspiration came when at his lowest point Wallis found a Youtube video of a man telling how he had survived depression. “I thought, ‘wow, there is actually a lived experience that’s showing me light at the end of the tunnel’.”
Wallis launched HOMSM on Tuesday night at a men’s mental health event focusing on athletes, run by the Banksia Project following the suicide of rugby player Dan Vickerman in February.
Wallis recognises there are risks when people tell their stories, and it should not be rushed. But a mass movement of like-minded people offers protection in numbers and in moral support.
The potential benefits of wearing your heart on your sleeve are enormous both for the goal of destigmatising mental illness and for individuals suffering in silence.
“I am not the poster child of recovery,” Wallis insists. “But this process has given me so much will to live.”
Share your journey with mental health in the comments!
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Inset Image: Mitch Wallis
Featured Image: Pintrest