An invitation to speak about mental health

There’s no stigma attached to mental illness – or so we say.

The platitudes may sound right, the stories of NRL stars and celebrities being applauded for talking about mental health issues may be splashed across the newspapers and TV, but when it comes down to it, those with mental health issues are still forced in many cases to deal with it behind closed doors.

When Ian Thorpe decided to return to Switzerland this week rather than stay with family and friends after his mental health was questioned, it highlighted how far we still have to go as a society to understand that a mental health problem should be accepted as a health issue in the same way as we would accept it if Thorpie had broken his arm.

Thorpe revealed in his autobiography his battle with depression.

‘‘I did it behind closed doors, where many depressed people choose to fight their demons before they realise they can’t do it without help.’’

However, a new global social media campaign is trying to lift the veil of secrecy and embarrassment for those dealing with mental health issues.

It’s this shame and secrecy that Erin Casey wants to eradicate and if the response to her Facebook campaign The Purple Project is anything to go by, she is already starting to break down that proverbial door.

On January 29, 2014, Casey and friend and fellow advocate Lizzie Elsberg started a campaign on Facebook called The Purple Project. It is affiliated with Casey’s own website for mental health awareness and education called Where I Stand, which she began in 2012 after leaving treatment for an eating disorder.

Just 48 hours after the campaign started, more than 1000 people worldwide had posted on the site explaining why they were publicising their own brushes with mental health issues, and another 7000 had supported it, including my own 11-year-old son.

And the numbers kept growing.

‘‘Once people realise it is OK to talk about their own issues they want to do it abundantly and that is what we are seeing on The Purple Project,’’ Casey says.

‘‘This is bigger than we anticipated.  What is so powerful is the awareness. From the privacy of their own homes people can talk about their problems and see they are not alone.  There’s so much secrecy and shame when it comes to mental health.’’

It’s not just those battling a mental illness who are posting to The Purple Project. Boyfriends, mothers, fathers, brothers and friends have donned purple clothing and explained in a brief post why they support the campaign and their willingness to step out of the mental health cloud.

Ella Graham, the convener and founder of campaign FedUp, which aims to promote awareness and education about mental health issues in Australia, was one of the first Australian contributors to The Purple Project site.

She says The Purple Project offers people the opportunity to see a more positive side to their illness.

‘‘It is a nice way to connect the community. On FedUp we do a lot of work in sharing negative experiences of treatment and The Purple Project shows there is a positive aspect – it is an invigorating thing for the FedUp community,’’ she says.

‘‘Like FedUp, The Purple Project shows there are other people going through similar experiences, and when you are seeking support online, and gathering information, it helps to have faces behind the words – to see there are others that have this commonality and they come from all walks of life and  different backgrounds.’’

The Purple Project is only one of the causes Where I Stand has supported. The non-profit organisation has been active in the US in many areas of mental health and is now advocating and lobbying the US government to include mental health education in the public school curriculum from kindergarten to year 12.

‘‘When I started Where I Stand in 2012, I had just left treatment and I was struggling to adjust but at the same time was enthused with a passion that there needed to be more done on the preventative side [of mental health],’’ Casey says.

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