January 1st 2018. The date I was determined to say ‘I tried’ and not ‘what if’ and started my social enterprise for mental health tools to try and save peoples’ lives but before I begin explaining my business, I’ll let you into a little secret:
I’m mentally ill myself and have been for the past 18 years. Life with mental illness is still a life and I’m determined to prove that you don’t have to recover to achieve your goals or live.
So, what are my mental health tools? Postcards. Or as I like to call them; Comfort Cards™
How can Comfort Cards™ help?
You might think ‘they’re just postcards, what can they really do?’ and that’s a fair question. In simple terms, these cards are conversation starters and offer comfort to those struggling and help us connect with each other and the more people we share (deeper) connections with, the less alone we are likely to feel. Studies show that loneliness underpins so much of our societal sadness and contributes to mental illness, with Andrew Solomon calling depression the ‘disease of loneliness‘ so if we can try and combat feelings of isolation, we might just be able to keep each other alive!
I am living proof that these cards have the potential to save lives. How do I know? Because I have lost count of the amount of times a random text, call or even social media interaction has pulled me back from the brink of suicide. These cards are another small, but important, way of letting someone know that you care about them and that they matter to you and in today’s fast-paced world, taking time out (and a little money) to remind someone they’re special to you, really can save a life! Sending a Comfort Card™ is a little effort which could have life-changing impact.
Difficult conversations are never easy to have or attempt to start no matter our age or life experience. I’m also British which means it’s culturally engrained in us to suffer in painful silence before we ever discuss feelings and emotions. But here’s the thing; that silence, around the world, is killing us.
I love to write as much as I love to talk which is why I also believe that mental health conversations don’t always need to be had verbally. There’s nothing wrong with starting conversations through emails, text messages or post-it notes to colleagues. How the conversations are started are not important; the fact that we have them at all is!
My aim is that these postcards will be the bridge we need to start those awkward conversations whether it’s a colleague in the office or a friend the other side of the world.
Where can I buy Comfort Cards™ ?
For the moment, I am selling them online exclusively through my Etsy store InPlainSightDesigns. However, I will be reaching out to independent and major stationary stores to see if I can have them physically stocked in shops. If you would like to consider stocking these cards in a store you own, wherever you are in the world, get in touch and let’s talk!
Imagine you’re a mum of a teenage boy.
Lately he’s become a lot more angry. He spends a lot of time in his room. He’s stopped talking to you. You want to help but you don’t know how and you’re exhausted facing his anger every time you try. You worry he’s ill but he doesn’t want to talk so you feel stuck.
Why not use a postcard? Maybe there are some local charities that specialise in youth mental health or you’ve found a great website or blog that you think will help. Write it down on the back of a postcard and leave it somewhere obvious for him to find.
How does that help? Potentially several ways:
It will remind him that you care and love him enough to recognise the change in his behaviour.
It could avoid another argument because you are not confronting him with his emotions; he has time to sit with the card in peace and think about what it means for him.
Though you have made the suggestion, it would be up to him to seek the help which will reinforce his independence therefore making him feel like the adult he’s struggling to be and not a ‘kid under pressure from his parents’.
Imagine you’re a manager or colleague
Lately you’ve noticed that your colleague’s behaviour or body language has changed. They’re quieter than usual. Using their headphones more. Not engaging in conversations as much. They say they’re fine and join in the banter but something doesn’t feel right though because you’re a colleague, you’re unsure of what to say or how involved you should get or even want to be.
Why not stick a postcard on their desk/in their locker etc telling writing a stupid joke on the back but reminding them that you’re there for them no matter what?
How does it help?
Even if your colleague isn’t suffering a mental health issue, everyone needs their self-esteem boosted and to feel acknowledged and appreciated within the work place. If the postcard makes them smile then great!
If they are struggling, the postcard and your words can offer them comfort to know that the support is there when they want it (even if they ultimately choose not to).
Reaching out to a colleague in this way could help form a stronger bond between you both and potentially create new friendships!
There are so many uses for the postcards…
- Sharing your thoughts and feelings with friends/family/colleagues when you don’t feel you can say those difficult things out loud
- Pointing people in the right direction for support and resources if you know they’re struggling
- Allows those struggling to realise that, despite what their mental illness is likely telling them, that they are loved and cared about
- If someone can’t physically talk about their feelings, they can write them down and the cards can act as a conversational journal which also works if you want to ask your doctor for help but can’t bring yourself to talk about your thoughts or feelings out loud
If you’re considering giving one of these cards to someone but are unsure what to say or how to give them, please check out the ‘if you’re giving a card’ page.
If you have received a card and don’t know what to do/say now, please read my ‘if you’ve been given a card’ page.
Who are the postcards for?
Whilst I’m targeting these at people who struggle with their mental health (men first), the cards are for anyone that’s struggling whether you need those self-esteem boosts every time you open your wallet or affirmations that people love you when you get one in the mail.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy leaving them on the Portakabin noticeboard for a mate to cheer him up, a teacher leaving one for your student to subtly encourage them to seek help or a friend that just wants to remind another friend how much they are loved and cared about.
These postcards have the potential to be seen by middle-aged farmers in Texas, young women in villages on a Philippine island, by teenagers in tiny towns across the world. I don’t care if a postcard is thrown or dropped on the road; if a someone sees the message on it and decides to get help because of it, they will have done their jobs.
What kind of postcards will there be?
Honestly, it depends on whether this first run is successful enough to keep me self-funding, as each set/pack of 10 costs approximately £250 to create and print, but here are the other packs of cards I’d like to create:
- Employment (sector specific to include relevant language, terminology and humour)
- Adolescent mental health
- Eating disorders
- Military mental health
- General self-esteem
- Psychotic mental health
Why are men getting the first run of Comfort Cards™?
Honestly? Because they’re dying at a faster rate than any other demographic on the depression scale in the UK, US and Australia. And sure, there are charities and programmes trying to raise awareness of mental health illnesses and being open to talking about the dark stuff but I realised that so few of them are helping to start the physical conversation which is where the postcards come in.
Men don’t talk about their feelings however much we’d like to believe when watching chick-flicks and that resistance to talk is, quite simply, killing them. How do I know this? Because they’re telling me as much. Whilst women are the ones who leave comments on here and engage with me on social media, my male readership is over 50% and many private messages and emails are from men reaching out to tell me they’re suffering in silence despite the family, friends and ‘steady’ life.
Sure, there are great physical campaigns out there with bus stop signs and beer mats, I’ve seen them, but they’re nearly always in cities. My cards have the ability to be seen by everyone else!
How much are the Comfort Cards™ ?
For the moment they’re £1.50 each or 5 for £6 (exclusive of postage). That’s to cover the cost of designing, printing and my time etc. Sadly I’m not rich enough to be able to cover all the costs myself. If I could, I would genuinely do all this for free!
How much I make from the postcards will give me a little money in my pocket to help further fund the next (potentially) several rounds of cards I have in mind.
Why are you charging for them?
Yes, charging people for trying to help them is a sticky subject and honestly, if you know me personally or have been following for a while you’ll know that I give so much of myself and my time if I know you’re struggling but I do, ultimately, want to be able to make a living from helping others so I have to start somewhere.
I don’t have enough disposable income to design, create and print them all by myself for free but I’m using the same format as a social enterprise; making a profit and putting it back in to the business to create more products/further my ideas. I’m still entitled to attempt to make a living from it.
What does the hashtag #inplainsight™ mean?
#inplainsight™ refers to the fact that, despite what is taught by many professionals, mental illness can’t always be seen; that those of us who suffer very often do so #inplainsight™ without anyone knowing. That suicide is nearly always a shock because there aren’t always visible signs. It’s why mental illness continues to be so deadly throughout the world and now has the infamous title of the being the biggest killer of men under the age of 44 in the UK, Australia and the US.
One of the biggest myths around mental illness, particularly with depression and anxiety, is that you can see it. It looks like ‘constant sadness’ or ‘constant panic attacks’ when in reality, mental illness is far more secretive and misunderstood. Not only are our mental illnesses invisible for the most part but the unnecessary shame and embarrassment we feel in being ill causes us to hide our symptoms even further which is one of the many reasons we find it so difficult to talk about it. I created the cards for people and times where it’s too hard to say the words out loud.
As for the hashtag, I knew I wanted one. Marketers would probably say I ‘needed’ one. But I didn’t know what. It couldn’t be too long, too obscure, effeminate and yet it needed to be one that would inspire curiosity when seen and succinctly, yet powerfully, explain both the truth of our situation and our emotions related to it. Every hashtag I seemed to think of started with #itsok (due to my own Its Ok series on here) but seeing that nearly every mental health charity campaign I looked at had some variation of that; I had to be different if I hoped to make these cards work but I gave up thinking about it because it was creating an unnecessary obstacle to the whole process.
And yet, I found my answer on Twitter. More specifically, a tweet from Chester Bennington’s (Linkin Park) wife. I was scrolling through Twitter when her tweets popped up showing a video of Chester laughing and she reiterated to the world that depression has no face. No obvious mood. That you can’t always see it.
My next tweet is the most personal tweet I have ever done. I’m showing this so that you know that depression doesn’t have a face or a mood.
— Talinda Bennington (@TalindaB) September 16, 2017
Right there I remembered a phrase I had used in a previous article of mine; that we hide #inplainsight™ and instantly I knew it was the hashtag I both wanted and needed.
Where did the idea for the cards come from?
About 3 years ago, whilst living in Australia, I realised that whilst we were surrounded by mental health awareness campaigns, no-one seemed to be offering advice or tools on how to start those physical conversations, accepting that not everyone feels comfortable opening up verbally or discussing mental health in a brutally honest fashion like I do. Around that time I also began to send cards through the mail to friends when they were struggling or celebrating new jobs etc and when I would receive a text or call saying how much it meant to them, I realised that cards were the way that I could help others.
My beautiful friend Oceana of Maps and Mandalas, came on board last September to bring my ideas to life and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. I told her what I needed and gave her free reign on everything else and what you see now is the result of my ideas and her skills combined. What I love is that Oceana was happy to get involved for no other reason than she believed both in the cards and me and I will be forever grateful to her.
Though I came up with the idea years ago, I have only pushed forward with them over the last few months because life happened. I received a life-changing diagnosis of my liver, moved back to the UK from Australia after surviving a major suicide attempt and then sank into the worst depressive episode I’ve experienced in 18 years of battling this illness. At the time of launching this business, this life-threatening episode is now 25 months in duration and I genuinely didn’t think I’d live to see today’s date (1.1.18) never mind see it and be announcing my own social enterprise.
Last September, without telling many people, I took a spontaneous trip to Lisbon in the hopes I could save my life. Before that week I’d had weeks of barely being able to function or talk at work or socially and saw no reason to live. I began to make plans to end my life. My depressive thoughts were relentless and causing physical exhaustion. So I went to a city, in a country I had zero interest in and did nothing but soak up the sunshine, eat good food and spend time with friends. A couple of days after landing back home and my creative energies had returned in abundance. I began to write again and more importantly, decided to push forward with these cards.
I launch my social enterprise during the worst, yet high-functioning, 2 years of my life with depression. I continue to work full-time, go to the gym 3-4 times a week, socialise, support friends and colleagues, travel solo and write/work on my business and I do all of that despite panic attacks, days where I can barely function and almost daily suicidal thoughts. I am living proof that you don’t have to have recovered from your mental illness to be able to live or achieve personal goals which I think is an important reminder in today’s ‘think positive’ age our society currently finds itself in.
Are you creating anything other than postcards?
When it comes to products, for the moment the answer is “no” as I have so many cards that I want to design and print. However, I would like to turn some statements into prints/posters, beer mats and even bus stop signs to help spread the word. I also have a rough idea for an app but that’s a long way down the track for the moment.
I am, however, currently designing a 1 day course for employers to help them create and implement effective mental health policies. This will be a mix of explaining what mental health actually is, why it’s necessary to address in the workplace and offering workshops on how to help yourself and others through dark times. If this is something that you feel you’d like to discuss with me in more detail for your workplace, please feel free to contact me here.
I have written a ‘frequently asked questions’ page here if you feel like I haven’t answered all of your questions.
Do I believe in the cards and what I’m trying to achieve with them? Absolutely. Do I think I can make them a success? Doubtful. But as I said at the beginning, it’s always better to be able to say you tried instead of wondering what if…even if it means failing in front of others.
I haven’t created these cards or started my social enterprise to make money. I’ve started it so that more people can feel comforted through the difficult times in life and know that they are not alone despite what their heads are telling them. If just one person receives a card and it stops them ending their life, even temporarily, the cards will have done their job.
So how about it everyone, are you ready to save some lives?!