In our latest interview, written by the lovely Tara, we spoke to Millicent, the founder of @our.happy.notes on Instagram. In our conversation with Millicent, she opened up about her own mental health experiences, the importance of de-stigmatizing mental illness, and more.
Question one: Thank you for reaching out to us with a variety of insightful topics, Millicent! You are the owner of the page @/our.happy.notes on Instagram, which “is based on the fact that small acts of kindness make a huge difference..” You’d said that through this platform you intend to ‘advocate, spread positivity, and campaign for a better mental health system’. What does an ideal mental health system look like to you? Why did you decide to channel your passion for mental health through Our Happy Notes?
The idea of an ‘ideal’ mental health system seems such a big and far fetched one at times that it can be hard to even begin to verbalise. However, at its core, an ideal system for me is one that is cohesive, properly funded, and present across all society (workplaces, schools, community hubs etc). It would recognise, understand, and out effort into researching the intersections of society/ identity and the impact that has on mental health. It would be able to offer appropriate and open ended treatment to anyone who asked for it, and to tailor to the individual. Most importantly, no one would ever be turned away or have to pay to get adequate support. This feels like a far off dream, but I truly do believe it is possible.
I started Our Happy Notes after emerging from a nine month depressive episode, mainly devoid of professional help, wanting to put some positivity back into the world. I had sat on the idea of sharing the happy notes I left in public online for a long time and as my passion for mental health awareness grew with my own experience, I decided to just give it a go and combine the two together. One of the best decisions I ever made!
Question two: Let’s go on to the second subject you mentioned. If comfortable sharing, which mental conditions do you have and how are they both crucial to your activism and beside the point?
I have cyclothymia (commonly considered a subtype of bipolar disorder), anxiety, and autism. It should be noted that autism is not a mental illness but a different neurotype than the ‘norm’. These conditions are a part of me, but they do not define me. Nonetheless they influence pretty much everything in my life - including my activism. If it wasn’t for my personal experience with mental health issues I never would have been inspired to start my page, and I wouldn’t be able to relate to/ help other people in the ways I can. They also inform my creativity- I love to write about mental health and perform pieces surrounding this subject. What’s more, the lessons I’ve learnt through my struggles aid me in everything I do - I can overcome challenges unrelated to them as a result and am growing as a person through them. Concerning my autism, it simply enables me to think outside the box sometimes and come up with ideas that may previously have been overlooked, which is amazing really. I share these lessons online, and write about changes needed in the system because of (and informed by) the adventures I undertake in my own journey.
Question three: In what other ways do you try to raise awareness of mental health and ‘the human experience behind mental illness’? Could you elaborate on that second half?
If I’m honest I’m still finding my voice to speak on mental health - and that’s ok! It allows for development and inspiration.
I make videos on my own experiences like ‘A Letter to My Mental Illnesses’ and I write articles on my blog/ page very much personal to me - that’s the humanity behind it all. It’s my hope that someone might see them and understand better the individual experience of mental health, or resonate with it themselves. I think it’s just being unafraid to talk about things like struggling and therapy online that can often be stigmatised that really changes attitudes over time. It shows a lived reality behind the built up ideas in people’s heads. In more general terms to raise awareness I share letters exchanged with my MP about the system, quotes, notes I’ve written, and resources for support. My wish is that it might spark a thought or conversation somewhere, or that someone might feel empowered to reach out for help (a really brave thing to do) because that’s what awareness is all about to me - the small actions and changes overtime.
Question four: Why is de-stigmatizing mental illness such an important task in this day and age?
I think a lot of people may say that mental health is already de-stigmatised, but I’d have to disagree. Statistics also tend to disagree. The fact that some people look at me weirdly when I tell them about my diagnosis; that my male friends seem less comfortable talking about emotions; that people are ashamed to take meds or go to therapy (which only worsens any issues) - that all points to the fact that stigma still exists. And stigma leads to further emotional pain, so de-stigmatising is life saving. Frankly, we all have mental health - it’s not just reserved for the ‘mentally ill’. This is a unifying, universal thing, so it needs to not have a taboo surrounding it; we need to be able to talk about it to help people and reverse disparities faced with the intersectionality of this issue. This is especially important in light of the inevitable impact of the coronavirus, and the unique stresses of modern day life such as technology (a powerful tool).
Question five: What are your goals for the future of Our Happy Notes? Are you expecting to expand or is it a short term project?
I definitely intend to expand Our Happy Notes! It’s been such a fulfilling project. I’m looking to expand the blog in particular where I’ve only just started posting regularly, so I can publish longer/ more in depth articles; I’d love to have guest writers as well to share their experience and insight! I’m also intending to expand on the advocacy side and push for further system change that is so desperately needed. Still brainstorming what all that will look like though. And again, I really want to get more people involved.
Question six: “I use creativity to express myself... I’m attempting to spread compassion in the face of mental health.” How do these two statements intertwine and define the drive you have for advocating mental health?
Wow, amazing question. First and foremost using my creativity to express myself through writing, making posts, and performing allows me to step outside my head for a minute and show myself compassion. Doing so refuels my energy tanks and allows me to keep moving forwards with my advocacy. This lends itself perfectly to spreading compassion on a wider scale because, hopefully, when I share my experience and speaking up about these issues it allows people to see a human and bigger picture behind the topic of mental health - which encourages compassion in their lives. I also actively encourage this through my notes because it’s just so important to be kind to ourselves and those around us. Basically it’s a cycle of creating and connection!
Question seven: Who are your favorite mental health advocates/organizations/pages that share reliable and interesting content?
I’m not half as connect as I should be with other mental health advocates, but I am constantly inspired by the amazing content I come across online - especially from young activists involving mental health in whatever issue they are focused on.
Some of my favourite pages on Instagram that post about autism are @the.autisticats and @fidgets.and.fries - but there are so many more amazing accounts out there. I love the drawings of @crazyheadcomics, and the informed content @hopingforhappy. @fullcircletherapyservices are an amazing page based on Black mental health. Cara Lisette is an amazing blogger... I could go on and on and on. I’d encourage everyone to have a look at these pages, and youth organisations like @youthforpositivechange - I find I’m constantly discovering more people through the ones I already follow which is amazing.
Question eight: What kind of writing do you enjoy? How often do you find yourself writing for self-expression or pleasure?
I love pretty much ever kind there is. Poetry, articles, scripts, short stories - whatever is captivating to my mind on a particular day. My journal is the most central part of my writing, and my driving force to keep putting pen to paper. I use it everyday to express myself in very plain terms; I might then expand into poetry instead or a different format depending on how I wanted to present the piece or who I wanted to address. I find everything I write pleasurable, if challenging - it’s why I keep writing. It’s part of daily life for me now. Essential.
Question nine: Is there anything else you’d like to share? If not, I’d love to thank you again and wish you the best for your future endeavours!
I just want to say to anyone reading this that you are not alone - you are never alone. And you can do so much in your life to support yourself and others. You’re uniqueness is valuable!