I started a social media campaign on Facebook in February this year called ‘Mental Illness – It’s Not Who I Am’ to demonstrate that anyone can have a mental health issue, but it doesn't define who they are. I want you to see beyond the label of our diagnosis and recognise us as people, not unlike you. As far as I can tell, this mental health campaign is unique in a number of ways:
It is about people's lives rather than how their mental illness affects, or has affected them
It is a collective, grass roots effort that does not profile any particular organisation
It is accessible to everyone who is on Facebook and has cost nothing to participate (except for me in terms of my time and advertising costs)
No training or special equipment is required to participate (I provide the limited expertise required)
The third batch of 5 stories are shown below - people who have had various professions: coach, consultant, teacher's assistant, musician, photographer, fireman and army. They all care a lot about people, evidenced by their family connections, friends, causes they support and activities they participate in. They smile a lot and genuinely love life.
How It Works
I step people through the process and provide as much or as little support as they require. All it really takes is for them to select 7 digital photos that express who they are. People usually choose things that they like doing, what they are working on, causes they support, places they love, and people they feel close to, etc. Anything goes really, except stuff about what it's like to have a mental health issue. I usually work with people on finalising their captions; the only constraint is the first caption has to say what mental health issue that person has been labelled with and end with "but it's not who I am".
People remain anonymous (since they can't be tagged in a video), but they have the option to disclose who they are if they wish to, by leaving a comment below their video, or I can do this for them.
Happily everyone so far has said they find it a fun and rewarding experience and it is important to me that continues to be the case. I am really careful to ensure that the images people choose are appropriate, respectful and not compromising, and that the person featured remains in control of how their story is represented.
After 15 stories, the campaign has reached over 77,000 people and almost 27,000 people have viewed the videos. I'm really pleased with the results to date and have set myself a target of sharing 50 stories.
Evolving the Campaign
I would really like our stories to represent the full diversity of our society in terms of ages, gender, ethnicity, background and experiences, in order to demonstrate that anyone can have a mental health issue, but it doesn't define who they are. I have invited people to come forward from outside Western Australia too and there have been two people who have done that.
Now I am thinking of evolving the campaign to create a broader scope and reach, perhaps by offering groups the opportunity to contribute as well as individuals. For example, preparing a group story or series of individual stories as a workshop activity, which could be immediately loaded onto the Facebook page.
Children of parents with a mental illness also experience stigma (imposed on themselves or by others), so I am considering how to make the same platform available to such young people to tell their stories, either individually or collectively.
I believe that participating in an activity like this one can be therapeutic for some people. The resulting stories are also educational for others, raise awareness and engage people in rethinking their attitudes towards mental health issues.
How You Can Participate and Support
Like, comment and share the video stories on Facebook (or this website)
Contribute your own story
Recruit other people to come forward with their stories
Contribute some money to 'boosting' each story on Facebook so it reaches more people
Contribute some money to cover my time so it can be sustainable
Employ me to deliver a storytelling workshop in your organisation
If you are interested in any of the above and want to know more, Contact me.
Please share this blog using the icon below if you think more people might be willing to contribute or just enjoy appreciating people who live with a mental health issue. You're most welcome to leave a comment and tell people what this means to you.