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 since I am still battling my way to recovery as I write this. We all know the statistics: In the UK, 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 illness. One sad example this year was Claire Greaves who lost her battle with anorexia.
I know how important blogging is in improving well-being and I know that there is a psychology behind blogging. I began blogging about my physical disabilities, mental health and autism through AMHA and 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 I am struggling with dyslexia, blogging is rather not my best skill. But being a more creative person, I decided to launch a new anti-stigma clothing and accessories brand called WhatLabel in spring 2018, hoping to complement the work in order to raise awareness around autism, mental health and disabilities.
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 of 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, and I am extremely aware of how mental illness has been abused through fashion and the media. I’m 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 e-commerce businesses, as well 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 cliched 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 WhatLabel’s missions and values would be. I wanted to make it clear WhatLabel has been created by someone who really does understand mental health. I have only ever wanted to promote awareness, acceptance and share resources to help those who are 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 at 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. I was also pleased that WhatLabel was one of the sponsors at the UK’s first event specially dedicated to mental health bloggers: 1st Mental Health Bloggers Conference held last 17th December 2018.
If you would like to support Whatlabel, you can do so through donation or purchasing of any of our clothing. Profits 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.
Image credit: Freepik
As well as having autism, Sonny Hawkins has various physical and mental health conditions. After years of struggling in silence, Sonny became tired of the stigma and treatment he received.