When stationery entrepreneur Jen Gotch and the heavyweights at jewellery brand Iconery sat together at a table, they decided to work towards ending the stigma around mental illness.
Their intention in creating dainty ‘anxiety‘ and ‘depression‘ necklaces was, no doubt, admirable; Gotch is a popular businesswoman whose Instagram following of almost 200,000 was built upon candid transparency about her own clinical depression. The 14K yellow gold vermeil necklaces – which retail for $48 – sold out within hours of hitting social media. Gotch has promised that all profits from the necklaces will be donated to Bring Change To Mind, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to quashing misconceptions about mental illness.
It’s a lovely sentiment, and in creating some pretty jewellery Gotch and Iconery have really started an important conversation.
But as someone with anxiety – who has taken ‘mental health leave’ from Mamamia multiple times in the past, and sees a psychologist regularly – I am torn about conflating mental illness with fashion.
Anxiety is having a moment in popular culture right now, and has been for a couple of years.
Some examples: Buzzfeed publishes listicles of celebrities who have anxiety year on year. The shoes on the London Fashion Week catwalk three weeks ago had ‘ANXIETY’ emblazoned on the front in glittering jewels. The cover of this month’s Harper’s Bazaar US is the most followed woman on Instagram, Selena Gomez, speaking about her anxiety and the obstacles she has overcome.
This isn’t a critique of Selena, of course – we need more women to be open and honest about the ugliness of mental illness. But because anxiety is now seen as the cornerstone of what makes a successful and busy woman, it is in vogue. Because it’s viewed as the more feminine, softer, romantic sister of other mental illnesses, anxiety sells everything from shoes to magazines. Because it’s on trend, women and men leap at the chance to have the word brandished around their necks in lovely, shiny gold.
Call me nuts, but I can’t imagine necklaces with the words ‘glandular fever’, ‘asthma’, ‘schizophrenia’ or ‘diabetes’ having the same commercial appeal.
The Mamamia Out Loud team debate whether anxiety necklaces are problematic below. Post continues.
But, hey, to say you have anxiety is to be relevant in 2018.
And yet, for those who have been squeezed in its suffocating grip, it is anything but cool. It’s an illness that has changed me, that has taken me to the scariest and darkest places of my life. It’s something that has kept me home on countless occasions because I’m too fearful to leave my apartment. It’s something that has damaged friendships. It’s something I have spent, at last count, $1408.80 trying to free myself from.
It’s not something that I see as pretty, enviable, or fashionable. It can be paralysing. It’s something I despise.
It’s also not something that defines me.
Which makes the efforts of Gotch and Iconery tricky, because their attempt to de-stigmatise mental illness through fashion has muddied the truth of what anxiety is.
The number of women who have told me they have anxiety in the last 12 months, despite never consulting a physician or psychologist, let alone receiving a formal diagnosis, is infuriating. Not because I feel these women are bandwagoners – although that thought does cross my mind – but because there’s clearly a disconnect in what we think anxiety is, and what it actually is.
(If you suspect you have a mental illness, you need to go to a GP to discuss your mental health. Giving yourself a diagnosis isn’t the best approach, and can also trivialise a serious illness that affects the lives of millions. You wouldn’t announce “I have kidney stones!” without seeing a doctor, and should treat anxiety in the same way.)
Anxiety is not a personality trait or quirk. It’s an illness.
And yet, those necklaces ignore the impermanence of mental illness. In labelling women’s necks with ‘anxiety’, we enmesh mental illness with identity, effectively ignoring the fact that mental illnesses are treatable and manageable just like physical ailments.
Sure, I am a woman with anxiety, but there are so many other facets to myself that colour who I am. I’m super passionate, I’m excitable, I bounce off the walls with energy. I get cranky when I’m not fed in regular intervals and will devour a full box of Arnott’s Barbecue Shapes if left unattended. I’m a mediocre driver and never know what the hell to do with my hair. I’m a chronic asthmatic (so cool, right?!) and was diagnosed with anxiety in April 2017.
Hopefully, this will be a chapter of my life that I can soon close; one that will disintegrate into the ether with more psychological counselling, mindfulness, and exercise.
But an anxiety necklace is the last thing I need.
For society to think of my anxiety as an illness – not a trend – is what I’ll ‘add to cart’, please.
You can listen to this week’s full episode of Mamamia Out Loud below.