Image: logo for Sienna Murdoch’s sadface.club. Image Source.
Destigmatisation of mental health is, and has always been, an arduous journey. Decades of shame, a lack of funding, limited research and the constraints of existing as taboo has rendered our wider culture unable to discuss the topic with necessary honesty.
That being said, there’s hope yet: the Internet has proven to be a liberating space for both personal and collective accounts of what it’s like to be affected by mental illness, suited to a space where connectivity, anonymity (where and when it’s needed) and intimate 140 character vignettes can coalesce without judgement, and shared with understanding. Pockets of the world wide web are already dedicated to frank education and interaction, undercutting an infrastructure that has kept the crucial discussions at society’s murky edges.
One such place is sadface.club, started by London-based Sienna Murdoch as a crucial, modern forum for mental health. Pulling members from around the world, the landing pulls from Twitter’s use of the word ‘sad’ and provides users with the chance to engage in open, infinite dialogue without the panic of being a burden. As the site states:
“sadface.club is an open platform to share stories about mental health.
coping mechanisms, not so coping mechanisms, initiatives we’ve found helpful, and mental health in the media
no situation is too big or too small. we share our thoughts, read others and realise the struggles are real for everyone.
we want to challenge the formality, anonymity, shame and burden that talking about mental health still holds.”
Catalogue: How did you first come up with the idea for sadface.club?
Sienna: I yearned for a chill resource to find treatment for my mental health. It’s like how period apps have butterflies and flowers – mental health websites have anonymous silhouettes clutching tissues in front of dirty windows. I used to keep a list of buzzfeed-style coping mechanisms on a Google Docs on my phone to refer to when I was low. It became a bit of a hobby – I aestheticized it and put it online. It’s quite abstract designing a logo to represent something so blue in your life. I bought “.club” because it was the cheapest and liked the idea of making it a community. I assumed I wasn’t going to be very good at updating it, so I made more content by streaming tweets that mentioned the word “sad”, which is every 2.5 seconds, and embedded Tetris because I had read in the New Scientist that it is a proven way of reducing traumatic flashbacks. The list became dynamic when I shared it with friends and then it became collaborative. Now there are 20 members in three parts of the world with their own page and an average of 5k unique visitors a month.
Catalogue: How do you find members/how do they find you?
Sienna: It’s organic, word spreads – people get involved when they see their friends have. People always want to be members of clubs. The site is simple and good looking – on first glance, it could be mistaken for a club night, so people shouldn’t think twice when following us on Instagram, like, will my boss see this?
Catalogue: Can you tell us a little about your own, personal journey with mental illness?
Sienna: From the age of 12, I swung from intense lows to highs and school to school and hospital. An early diagnosis would have helped me and my parents understand and legitimise everything. I have since received a diagnosis of Bipolar and I’m on the right medication. It’s been very difficult holding down jobs and boyfriends. I recently managed to run a business for 2 years thinking I had it down, and then out of nowhere, I crashed and burned and was in hospital again. It feels relentless and incessantly out of my control. But I’ve managed to get by with a sense of humour, stories of being offered weed in hospital and adding “LMAO” after anything that could be perceived as serious. I already had the capability of being open.
Catalogue: What do you think some of the biggest misconceptions around mental illness are?
Sienna: There are too many but perhaps the most damaging are the ones assumed by those suffering. That it is wrong to feel awful and it’ll be forever and their fault. You need a considerable amount of courage to seek help at a time you feel most exhausted. I once brought up the courage to talk to my GP about suicidal thoughts I’d been having and they asked if I was on my period.
Catalogue: How do you think being more open & honest about mental illness helps?
Sienna: Speaking aloud and writing things down untangles your thoughts. You can create a wave – your honesty might help a friend feel less alone, they’ll be more aware of you or mental health in general. Sadface gives me an opportunity to to share in my own words, not ones I’m afraid might burden my parents or that my mental health worker will understand. I feel empowered to be open because I know other people in sadface have been too.
Catalogue: The words ‘sad’ and ‘sadness’ have almost been repossessed by the Internet – what do you think makes them accurate terms?
Sienna: Sadness and depression aren’t the same thing, just like anxiety isn’t stress. One thing is an emotion and the other is an illness. But I think it’s important we don’t concentrate on being so correct. Sadness is a commonality and on a spectrum – everyone coming to the site will have experienced it to some degree. I find using a trivial word makes it more accessible. The sadface emoji is like the fertilisation of serious, plaguing anguish. Reducing it to a mega pixel feels like taking back the reigns a bit.
Catalogue: What do you think can be done by governing bodies to help evolve and increase awareness around mental health?
Sienna: Early education in schools and workplaces, so people can grow up knowing it is normal and recognise when they or someone they know needs help. Which will lead to earlier intervention and prevention. More funding for group therapy, easier access to community mental health teams and in a dream world – a Psychiatric Accident and Emergency.
Catalogue: What’s the future for sadface.club? What do you hope it will achieve?
Sienna: I want to have loads of fun with it, a vehicle to experiment in ways of engaging people, get across that it’s OK to feel crap and challenge the formality of being honest, where people who engage with the site can walk around with membership cards in their phones and get discounts on their coffee. We’re going to expand our “membership” internationally and launch a chat bot that you can talk to on the site. I want to create a section that encourages scientific dialogue from mental health workers and PhD students who have got in touch. I find it incredibly soothing to learn, objectively, about chemical imbalance and neurogenesis and the research that is going into understanding mental health.
If you found this triggering in any way, or know of someone that might need help, please speak to a medical professional immediately, or reach out to Lifeline.
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