This week, Refinery29 is exploring mental health topics as part of our partnership with Clinton Global Initiative University. This article was originally published on January 20, 2016.
After taking on the subjects of dating
and learning to be kinder
, designer Jessica Walsh's latest project tackles something similarly personal, but deeper: the stigma of sharing struggles with mental health. Her new project, Let's Talk About Mental Health
, compiles honest accounts from people dealing with all kinds of mental illnesses — and invites you to share your own experiences.
Walsh says she was inspired to start this project while working on another one, 12 Kinds Of Kindness
, in which she and fellow designer Timothy Goodman set out to learn how to be nicer. "Step four [of 12 Kinds of Kindness] is about learning to forgive yourself for something in your past," she explains in an email. "When we formulated this step, I immediately knew what I had to write about: my past struggles with anorexia, depression, and self-harm. I went through these issues for many years, but since I’ve recovered, I’ve kept them a secret from almost everyone."
In addition to telling her own story in a moving, personal video
, she reached out to friends and colleagues to see if they would be willing to share their experiences. The response was extremely enthusiastic: About half of those she reached out to offered to contribute their stories, and the other half referred her to someone else who could contribute, she says. There are currently 10 stories live on the website
, and another 15 will be added over the next few weeks. Simultaneously, she's sharing quotes and illustrations from the stories on an Instagram feed
. Walsh is also inviting everyone to add their stories through the website.
Considering our complicated relationship with social media's pressure for perfection
, Instagram may seem like an odd place for the project. But, Walsh explains, that's exactly the point. "I realized I had been curating my public persona to only show certain sides of me, or the best moments in life," she says. "The truth is, my life can be messy and complicated, and I have ups and downs just like everyone else; I am no different."
And, similarly, those dealing with mental illnesses are "normal people who lead otherwise productive lives," Walsh says. "The more [that] people open up and share their stories, the more we can change people's perspectives on these topics, end the ignorance around these disorders, and help end the stigmas attached to them."
Click through to see a sampling of the honest images from the Let's Talk About Mental Health Instagram feed.