ARTICLES, HEALTHY LIVING & WELL BEING. EATING DISORDERS
How These Bracelets are Changing the Conversation Around Mental Health
You can’t help it.
Sometimes, you just feel alone. Like you have no one to talk to and no one with whom you can relate. You put on a face for everyone else to see because it’s easier to stay silent about what’s going on inside.
It’s a battle – and one of the most difficult struggles you’ve ever been through.
Let’s face it: when you suffer from a mental illness, you suffer in silence. You don’t speak to anyone about it because no one understands. And when you do speak about it, you get blank stares and patronizing advice because most people don’t actually understand what it means to suffer.
But what if you did have someone to talk to? Would it make a difference?
What if, upon meeting someone new, you immediately knew if you could relate to them? Even more, what if you knew they were going through an almost identical struggle as you? Would you feel less alone? Would you feel more open to being yourself? Would you drop your guard and finally be able to speak about the pain you’ve been going through?
With the smartphone generation becoming more isolated by the second, it seems impossible that we could find ways of creating more meaningful connections with others without the effort of breaking through our own guarded isolation to do so.
But for one young entrepreneur, that impossibility is exactly what started his business.
SOS Safety Magazine had a chance to interview 22-year-old, David McIlwraith, about his company BetterBracelets, and how he sees his organization becoming not only a symbol of mental health and wellness, but also a movement aiming to shatter stigmas and bring together those who are ready to connect, share their stories, and finally find comfort in being themselves.
What exactly is BetterBracelets and what would you define your mission as?
I want BetterBracelets to serve as a platform for people to share their story related to mental illness. Each bracelet colour represents a different mental health condition. You wear the bracelet colour that has impacted you or a loved one.
Openly discussing your experiences with mental illness can be an intimidating first step, so part of our mission is to provide a bracelet that can encourage individuals to put their story out there in a less intimidating way. We want to improve connectivity between people who have been affected and stimulate conversation.
Part of our mission in improving mental health outcomes is to donate $2.50 of each bracelet sold to mental health initiatives and refusing to net more than we give away.
How did you come up with the idea for BetterBracelets?
I was sitting in a lecture hall in my first year at Western University where I did my undergrad. I remember looking around and feeling really overwhelmed because everything was so new. I ended up having a pretty tough year with GAD. It’s easy to feel completely alone in a situation like that, and I realized if I had looked around and seen one other person who also looked like they were struggling, I wouldn’t have felt so isolated. From that experience, I started thinking of simple ways to connect people who have been affected by mental illness, and the bracelet idea kinda stemmed from that.
BetterBracelets operates under something you call the 3-pillared approach – can you tell our readers more about what that is and how it relates to your business?
The 3-pillared approach was a framework I developed to relay to customers what I felt the purpose of wearing a BetterBracelet was. The first is to ACTIVELY involve the public in the conversation related to mental illness. The second is to EDUCATE the public about the prevalence of mental illness. The third is to create a position of VULNERABILITY that enables people to more comfortably share their story.
Part of our business is to try and encourage conversation. People are generally more likely to come forward if they feel like they aren’t alone and are enabled to share their story. We think wearing a BetterBracelet is really effective in doing this. The cool thing is, the more people who become involved, the more powerful the initiative is.
Your company says it’s committed to giving a portion of the money from each sale to mental health initiatives and institutions – can you expand on exactly which initiatives and institutions the portion will be going to, or what your process is for selecting which they’ll be?
We give out funds every 3-months. I have a volunteer team of advisors I send financial information to monthly and we discuss where the money may be best allocated. Our official launch date was July 30th, a date I chose because it’s Terry Crews’ birthday and I’m a big fan of him and what he stands for. We’ll be giving out our first donation on October 30th. I’m really excited about that.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll have meetings with different advisors to get their opinions, and I’m hoping to go in and interview different institutions to inquire about how they would use the funding.
As a young and recent graduate yourself, why do you think mental health related issues are so prevalent in young people (students in grade school/college/university) today?
Everything is just so hyperactive today. People are constantly looking at screens and getting information at a mile a minute. As amazing as that can be, I think it can cause a lot of damage too, and young people seem to be at the centre of that.
Young adulthood is also a time with a lot of uncertainty and a lot of change because you’re trying to balance school, figure out your career path, hang out with friends, pay your tuition/bills, etc – and I think that can be really difficult mentally.
Do you have a personal connection – either yourself or a close friend/family member – with mental illness? If so, how did (or do) you cope with it?
I have close friends who have struggled with mental illness and I had GAD in first year. It’s definitely tough, I don’t think people realize how powerful the mind is until you’ve become trapped in it. The first thing that was big for me in dealing with it was simply talking to my doctor about treatment options.
Even more important though was exercising and talking to people in my social support system. I was fortunate to be blessed with an amazing family and some amazing friends. Some people don’t have that, and I can’t imagine how hard that must be. If I can help even one person to connect with others around them, I’d say this whole thing is a success. It ultimately comes down to helping people. I really just feel so fortunate to have such incredible people around me and I want to give that back. That’s how I want to live my life and I’m hoping this business is representative of that.
What advice would you offer someone who is currently struggling with a mental health related issue?
I encourage people to talk to those close to them about it. I know that can be a difficult conversation, but chances are they – or someone they know – has been similarly affected and could provide some good insight.
I’m also a big proponent for exercising. I think it was Hippocrates who said, “Walking is the best Medicine.” Our bodies and mind crave movement, and we’ve known about the benefits of physical activity for years. It’s amazing how much better you feel after a good workout. So if you feel like you’re going through a tough time, try doing some light exercise and see how you feel afterwards. That was pretty instrumental for me.
What’s the one thing you think could be done that would change the world the most?
That’s a hard one to answer. I think people just need to listen to what others are saying. Our first response to people who disagree with us seems to be to get angry with them, but what kind of a reaction is that? I think we need to do better at actually listening to what people are saying rather than just disagreeing right away. Everybody has information to offer and we can’t get trapped in our own paradigm, otherwise, we won’t progress forward.
What do you want BetterBracelets to mean to other people?
Hopefully, people see us as an open and honest business that’s just trying to raise awareness. We’ve gotten messages from people already who have said that we’ve helped them through their depression and aided them through some of the darkest times in their life, and that’s a pretty powerful thing. With that comes a lot of responsibility, and I’m hoping people will see us as a business that will rise to the challenge and promote mental wellness.
I don’t deserve the credit, the credit goes to all the people who are buying bracelets, sharing their story and getting involved. I’m just the mediator, and I’m grateful for the support I’ve gotten so far. I have some amazing customers and I love hearing from them, so I’m hoping people feel open to collaborate with us and express their thoughts related to the business or just life in general.
Do you have any projects/news/developments people should be looking out for? And where can people connect with your organization if they want to learn more?
For me personally, not really. I’m working on designing a physical activity program in my spare time right now but because I just started my Masters at Laurier, that’s kinda been put on hold. I have to give a lot of credit to Laurier, the kinesiology department and the amazing professor I’m working with. They make everyone feel welcome and ensure mental wellness as being a top priority for their students, and I really respect that.
For BetterBracelets, we’re just looking to continue to generate discussion. I’m looking for opportunities to appear in podcasts, interviews, articles, anything really to get the word out there. I’m going to continue to reach out to customers and online Instagram influencers who I feel are representative of our values.
We did just release a new design and are hoping to have anklets out soon, so be sure to keep an eye out for that. If someone would’ve told me we’d be shipping to 6 different countries in our opening month, I wouldn’t have believed it. I feel really grateful for the support and obviously encourage people to continue spreading the word if they like what we stand for.
For anyone looking to connect or learn more, you can follow us on Facebook and Instagram using the handle @betterbraceletsinfinity. Feel free to visit our website for info and purchases at www.betterbracelets.net.