Why we tackled mental health with Happy tops
Alison and Frances blog about how they turned their experience of anxiety and depression into a fundraising fashion item
We have turned our personal experiences of anxiety and depression into a fashion brand that is loved by celebs, highlights the importance of talking about mental health, and raises funds for Mind with our distinctive 'Happy' logo tops.
We first met in London’s Soho in 1993. One of us (that’s me, Alison) was fresh off the train from Glasgow and interviewing for her dream record company job, and the other (that’s me, Frances), a fun, bubbly Essex girl wearing denim hotpants and a huge smile.
One of us (me again – Alison) got the job, and a new friend too, and decided that this little Scottish girl with the funny surname should really be called Pickle. The nickname stuck.
After a couple of rollercoaster decades of showbiz fun and frolics, we replaced Britpop and boybands with babies and businesses, but 25 years on, we’re still best friends.
Even way back, we felt that we wanted do something together. A business that was creative but also positive, and that would be an opportunity to raise awareness of something we both felt passionately about.
I have suffered with depression since my late teens, but kept it a secret from those closest to me. During low spells, I would hide myself away – so since friends only saw me on the ‘good days’ so many of them had no idea what I really went through. On the outside I was fun and outgoing, but I also suffered from crushing dark spells where I could barely leave the house.
"As I grew older I found pretending to be OK exhausting, and I wanted to start being more honest."
As I grew older I found pretending to be OK exhausting, and I wanted to start being more honest with those around me, so I began trying to explain to loved ones what I was feeling, how hard it was to even communicate some days, and that my lack of enthusiasm to see or speak to them at times was not at all personal.
Many friends were supportive, and also quite surprised that I’d been hiding this for so long. But, frustratingly, others just didn’t understand that depression is not a choice, or just a ‘bad day’ that can be fixed.
During periods of depression I often felt guilty, ashamed or unable to explain myself, and when those with no experience of mental health problems had no understanding or information it could easily make things worse. At the same time I was starting to see how much difference it made when my loved ones really knew what I was going through.
Frances has always been someone that I could truly be myself with, and it was during a chat with her about this, and her own struggles with anxiety, that the seed of an idea for Pickle London was planted.
It’s only in recent years that I’ve recognised and accepted my experiences of anxiety, and been able to open up about them. I’ve always been ‘a bit of a worrier’, and that won’t ever change, but the hardest times are when it tips out of control into a spiral of stressful thoughts and concerns that I can’t cope with; small things that can seem trivial to friends and family but overwhelming to me at the time.
"As I sought help it also became apparent that so many more people out there struggle too."
Opening up, sharing and talking about how I felt helped, but as I sought help it also became apparent that so many more people out there struggle too.
I realised that I had to stop apologising for how I am. I think fundamentally there’s nothing I can do to change who I am as an anxious person; I can only help myself by creating the least stressful environment possible, finding coping mechanisms for when thoughts are spiralling and be as honest as possible with those around me.
Exercise has also been brilliant for me, and I play tennis several times a week to keep my mental health in check. I find it’s a great way to focus on simply what I’m doing in the moment, and getting my heart rate up is great both mentally and physically.
Right, this is both of us now:
As we talked openly with each other about our struggles, we began to brainstorm ideas about how we could encourage others to talk about their mental health in a positive, accessible way, and reduce the shame and stigma about dealing with a mental health problem.
"We wanted people to be ‘Happy To Talk’ about their mental health, so this became our campaign slogan."
We came up with the idea for our 'Happy' sweatshirts for a couple of reasons - we wanted people to be ‘Happy To Talk’ about their mental health, so this became our campaign slogan, and we wanted to do this in a cool, fun way. We didn’t want to create ‘just another charity tee’, we wanted something stylish that people really wanted to wear that also happened to have a great message too.
We were drawn to bright colours, and our classic Rainbow design, signifies that even on the darkest days we always looked for that glimmer of hope.
Our Happy slogan represents our belief in being #happytotalk about our mental health, and to open the conversation in a fun, approachable way.
The response to Pickle London has been incredible – we get messages every day from people sharing how wearing their Happy top lifts their spirits on bad days, how people stop them in the street to comment on their top.
Thanks to our background in the music industry we’ve also had incredible support from celebrities who have been happy to ‘wear and share’ our Happy tops to help spread the word – the more people we can reach with our #happytotalk message the better.
We have big plans to make our brand and Happy logo recognisable everywhere, and to get people talking freely about their mental health… this is just the beginning.
See what we're campaigning on
We'll fight your corner. We believe everyone with a mental health problem should be able to access excellent care and services. We also believe you should be treated fairly, positively and with respect.
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Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.