OK so i’m just going to dive in and say it. Mental health, there, I’ve said it, like ripping off a bandaid. Yes, I know it’s easier to say it on paper than out loud to people, real actual people. Trust me I know. I’ve been there and it’s hard, though for me once it was said, it’s a relief like a huge stone being lifted from my chest making me able to breath in deep and exhale feeling free.
Looking back over the years, now understanding what mental health is from my recent episode three years ago, I’ve had struggles probably twice before. During the other times I believe I just rolled with it, put my rhino skin on and more than likely drank myself through it. I was in my twenties living large in the big smoke of London and working in the fashion industry. Unknown to many how I was feeling and me not talking about it, because why would I? I had worked hard to get where I was and fortunate to have the job I was in. As the line in Devil Wears Prada goes ‘A million girls would kill for this job’.
Mental Health is a discussion which should happen more within the fashion industry— it’s almost glazed over because “this is just how the industry is”. A high stress ball of mixed anxieties with glamour thrown at it!
I know at one such fashion giant the saying was that if you worked there you would either turn into a bitch or have a nervous break down. Personally I never worked there, though didn’t stop the breakdown from happening at another stressful fashion HQ.
The fashion industry employs a high number of freelancers, and at the same time profits dictate the company culture. So when the sales dip, the redundancies occur. Talk about a mental health dive when it comes to financial worries.
Panel guest Toni Giugliano, Policy & Public Affairs Manager for Mental Health Foundation, explains how their research focus is the impact of COVID-19 on peoples mental health. In regards to financial worries, 1 in 5 people in full time work are concerned about losing their job and 1 in 5 people who are unemployed have had suicidal thoughts over that period. Financial concerns are at the top of people’s minds.
In response to this the MHF has published a document with a series of recommendations for UK Government looking at stretching the social safety net that people rely on in times like this. An example would be to strengthen the welfare system ensuring the people who need help can access it quickly with practical suggestions and solutions about addressing the financial crisis and all else that has been destroyed by COVID-19.
We need to find a balance for the virus to be suppressed but also ensuring that, on a long term basis, people and communities are able to thrive and livelihoods are protected. Otherwise we will see psychological issues increasing as the weeks and months go on.
We cannot rely on good will alone to get communities back on their feet, central and local governments must step up and identify the gaps, whilst strengthening those social safety nets right across communities. For this, resource and money is required. This investment made now will safeguard the future.
This goes for ethnic minority communities, who shamefully still have added struggles that can have a huge toll on their mental health. Shakaila Forbes-Bell founder of ‘Fashion Is Psychology’ is currently researching Transgenerational theory, where historically you can pass down trauma, genetically which can stay with you throughout your life. For example Black people having to work twice as hard for anything and everything is being instilled from older generations, they hold this with them from a young age and them themselves pass this onto the next in line.
Again, not just for communities and government to understand but businesses. Forbes-Bell hears from her black peers within the fashion industry that it has been placed upon their shoulders to explain the issues around black lives matter and racism. For the black community, it’s obviously tiring and exhausting to carry this burden.
Companies in the fashion industry (and other industries too) need to reach out to their employees to show them that support is here and to be aware of the silent burdens which black people hold and vice-versa. Black people have to be in a positive, safe environment to be able to speak up when they need help and to receive adequate support.
If businesses are not willing to support their black employees then how can everyone come together to create a better change so there is a level playing field within the industry?
Mental health campaigner and founder of award-winning fashion brand Maison de Choup, George David Hodgson began to suffer from anxiety, OCD and panic attacks at the age of 16. He used his drawings as a creative outlet to cope with his illness, as he found it too difficult to open up and talk about them.
His brand was created by producing t-shirts which have special meanings behind them. In doing so, he built a community through these subtle and non-triggering designs that evoke honest dialogues of mental health issues. George knows first hand how important it is to receive treatment as soon as possible. Faced with a 40 week lead-time from our NHS Mental Health sector, he was fortunate enough to receive care sooner through the private sector. He couldn’t stand back knowing this was happening to others, he donates 25% of his proceeds to the YoungMinds Charity, a place of resource and solitude for himself during his own recovery. The charity provides vital support to young people who cannot afford to go privately.
We’ve seen people use their creative side as a way to open up during mental health episodes. We collectively need to understand what people are going through and offer the appropriate support. Everyone’s mental health is different and has individual circumstances— not one size fits all. During the current climate of lockdown, some simply just like to talk. You can change things for the better. So go on, pick up the phone, call someone, they will be happy you did.
If you’d like to watch the Webinar in full, please click HERE.
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Words & Images – Kate Auguste owner & founder of MI Wellness