Here's My Heart
Behind the creation
Depression isn't something I have had to go through myself. I cannot begin to understand the complexities of feeling fine one day, and feeling so shit the next. Yet according to recent statistics one in four people go through this battle of instability every day in Australia.
I'm a thirty-year old guy and I have been working on Here's My Heart for around two years now. During my time of pushing for the understanding and acceptance of mental health issues I have had several people approach me to tell me about their own struggles and share their stories with me. It really hit me hard and got me thinking about the best way to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. How can someone like myself, who cannot comprehend how it feels to battle these demons daily show people that I'm here to help?
Since starting Here's My Heart and spreading the vision on social media, it has given people the confidence to discuss their issues with me, so I am going to talk about a different side of the mental health discussion, one which I can speak about with actual experience:
How do you start a conversation and continue dialogue, with someone you feel may need to talk about their mental health?
Having had no professional training in the area of counselling, I was initially apprehensive about getting involved in a discussion due to a fear of not knowing what to say, and not knowing if what I was saying was going to help or hinder the situation. What's the right thing to say? I felt like maybe there would be someone better, more equipped to handle this discussion. It was never about the lack of compassion or not wanting to help, I just felt grossly unprepared and not qualified to provide support. After doing a bit of research, I found that I really didn't need to say much and that listening can be the best thing to do. I read a section on the RUOK? website that walks people through the correct methods for talking to, and providing support for someone, who you feel hasn't been themselves. The website helps with methods and ideas for providing ongoing support both professionally and personally. I feel everyone could benefit with reading this article as being equipped with the knowledge and conversational skills to start and maintain a meaningful conversation, is extremely important.
Personally, this discussion has never been an easy one for me to have. I genuinely feel everyone wants to help others, we just don't know where to start. We want to catch up with someone and have a conversation, but from a male’s perspective, how can you approach a mate and casually suggest a catch up?
The most common method for guys is to ask, "Do you wanna catch up for a beer?" While this is generally pretty well received, it may sometimes be a part of the issue in the first place, as alcohol contributes to mental health issues and is also an unhealthy coping strategy for some. Asking to share a beer in a pub setting gives off a ‘manly’ persona, whereas suggesting to another man that they should, for no particular reason, catch up for lunch or a coffee, can be awkward and not in line with gender stereotypical behavior. Having never been a beer drinker myself I know the looks and comments you receive when you decline a beer.
It is too easy for people to politely accept a catch up and then not follow through. We've all been there. We need to find a way to make the communication between us relaxed, comfortable, fun, exciting, new and memorable. This will make the ongoing discussion easier every time.
The concept of the Here's My Heart project is that by giving a piece of artwork to someone as an empathetic gesture and a symbol of your heart, you have communicated or connected with them. By giving them something tangible and personal, they can keep it, and physically access it when you can't be there. Some examples are; a piece on their desk that can catch their eye on a tough day at work; a beautiful work to hang in the bedroom for a smile before they sleep; or something small and funny to hang on the fridge for a laugh every time they get the milk.
The symbolism and the gesture is what is important, not the artwork itself. The options are endless and aren't simply limited to art as you may initially think. The lyrics of a favourite song can be written down as a note or scribbled down in some fancy typography. You can photo shop your faces onto a humorous photo that will be sure to put a smile on their face every time they look at it. Or if you know an artist or artwork that you feel would appeal to your friend you could look at printing or purchasing it. A photo of you both in a nice frame, or an artist's impression of that photo is also great. Basically anything that can serve as a symbol of your support and hopefully foster an ongoing meaningful connection.
People really value the friendship groups they have, and genuinely have the belief that they would do anything for their friends if the moment ever did arise. We all want to be there for the people we care about, and a simple question or a showing of compassion can change a person's day and life. I remember once when I bumped into a friend I hadn't seen in quite a while, he asked me genuinely "How have you been mate? Are you happy?"
I didn't know how to answer, as I had never actually been asked directly "am I happy?" It was a sincere question and really made me consider my answer.
All it takes sometimes is to ask a question, don't be afraid of what might happen if you say the wrong thing or if you don't think you know what to ask next. Get yourself prepared now and show your heart to your mates.