Next up in our Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 series we introduce DO NOT THINK I AM ALONE.
DO NOT THINK I AM ALONE is for people who are dealing or have dealt with mental illness, and for people who want to help spread awareness. For every T-shirt sold, 5 euros is donated to Mental Health Foundation NL.
They want to acknowledge the fact that mental illnesses are raging amongst adolescents and young adults, by spreading awareness they want to make mental illness easier to discuss. We We spoke to founder, Jenske Ebenau about how it all began.
Hi Jenske, we absolutely love the idea behind Do Not Think I Am Alone. Could you tell our readers a little about yourself and how you came about the idea?
I am a nineteen year old artist from the Netherlands with a history of mental illness. A few years ago, I wrote the sentence ‘Do Not Think I Am Alone’ in my sketchbook. I associated the words with an attitude of having had enough of feeling like an outcast. I never did anything with it, but it kept hovering in the back of my mind. Last January I was working as an au pair in France. I was having the worst artistic block I’ve ever had, and I couldn’t figure out what I wanted my next step to be. It all led up to a breaking point, which felt like the end of the world to me in that moment.
However, just moments after that little break down, I thought of this sentence in my book. It came up to me and I felt I really had to do something with it, I wanted to spread the word. I wanted to have people proclaim it and break the idea of mentally ill people being victims. There didn’t seem to possibly be a better way to bring them together and make a statement than through wearing the words on their body.
I read that you began Do Not Think I Am Alone because of your own mental health – has this provided you with a personal and creative outlet?
This project is more of a consequence from expressing my experience with mental illness. I made loads of art during and in retrospect of my darkest days. Do Not Think I Am Alone is the project that I take away from it, after having experienced and reflected on mental illness.
"People who struggle with their mental health are still often perceived as weak, although the fact that they’re still living life everyday is really a sign of strength."
What gave you idea to put the slogan on a t shirt?
I personally find ‘wearing’ words easier than speaking them. When I put on the shirt, I feel part of a group of people that won’t be judged through a stigma anymore. People who struggle with their mental health are still often perceived as weak, although the fact that they’re still living life everyday is really a sign of strength. It takes a lot of courage to get things done while constantly being sabotaged by your own mind.
As someone who has kept their mental health problems hidden for the majority of my adult life – why do you think in 2018 it's still so difficult for us to be honest about our mental health?
Today, there are more and more platforms to show support and to speak up about mental illness. We’re starting to create an environment in which people are encouraged to talk about their struggle. Nevertheless, we do have a long way to go. In everyday life you will still encounter people who are sceptical about mental illnesses like depression, and it’s not that easy to stand your ground against them if you already have trouble supporting yourself.
Do Not Think I Am Alone focuses on mental illnesses amongst adolescents and young adults – with suicide rates constantly on the rise, how do you think we can encourage younger people to not be afraid to get the help they need?
If we keep working on building a supportive atmosphere, the fear of rejection and scepticism might shrink and hopefully people will feel encouraged to openly question their mental health before it gets out of hand. If we were to feel more comfortable discussing our mental health, we might recognise symptoms on ourselves and our loved ones and be able to step in on time.
Since starting Do Not Think I Am Alone have you noticed a shift in how people are talking about mental health? Do you think social media has helped with this?
I only launched this project last April so I haven’t seen any shifts on a large scale. However, I have been in contact with several people who wanted to share their story. This is something I didn’t initially expect but it definitely taught me that if you’re willing to open up to people, they’re willing to return the favour. As soon as someone can see themself in your story, you create such a bond and it takes away a bit of the lonely feeling mental illness brings.
You work with the charity The Mental Health Foundation NL could you tell us a little more about them and what they do?
Mental Health Foundation NL is a dutch charity that rivets on breaking the taboo on mental illnesses. In 2018 their focus lies mainly on depression amongst young people. They are currently running a public campaign to educate the country on depression and its symptoms.
How do you cope with, and manage your mental health - if you have any tips for staying positive, we’d love to hear them?
Something I used to do was getting frustrated with myself for my incapability of doing things with the ease other people seemed to do it. As soon as I realised that I was suffering from an illness, I could separate my own mind from my sick mind and blame it on the illness rather than on myself. That helped me in being more patient and giving myself credit for little accomplishments.
It’s hard to give yourself the rest you need when you see other people going through life on full speed. But once you learn to be patient, you’ll really give yourself the space to heal and reflect. Put your trust in a professional to monitor you and parent yourself with kind, reassuring thoughts.
Once you learn to do that, you can challenge yourself to take on a bit more. And if that doesn’t work (yet), don’t beat yourself up about it and take smaller steps. It’s a long process and patience is the key.
I preach all these things because I’ve learnt them while reflecting on my history with mental illness. I still have a hard time living up to what I say, but I’m learning!
What can we expect to see from Do Not Think I Am Alone in 2018?
Currently, UK embroiderer Josephine Knechtli is customising three T-shirts for our collaboration. We will auction them soon for a UK mental health Charity. Also, I’m working on a design for the next drop and figuring out how to further develop the platform and connect as many people as possible.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up we should know about?
I am very keen on interdisciplinary art projects and am brainstorming on giving this project an extra dimension. I’m keeping my arms open to new opportunities and I’m excited for what is coming!
Lastly, where is the best place for our readers to keep up to date with you and to buy a tee?