This Place is Yours launches at Vivid

StuffHappensThis Place Is Yours launches as part of Vivid Sydney this week. Founded by Sydney-based 28-year-old writer and social entrepreneur, Seraphina Reynolds, the new media project aims to combat stigma and enhance empathy and awareness around the issue of mental health. 

The book includes contributions from people such as NYC visual artist Jeremyville and musician Ben Lee.  The event on 26 May has speakers including acclaimed fashion and music photographer Cybele Malinowski, FBI Radio producer Belinda Lopez and more. We sent Sonia Clarke to chat to Seraphina about the project:

Do you think stigma around mental illness is a particular problem in Australia? Why is this?
I think stigma is a problem everywhere, but I suppose it is a bit different in Australia because of what people seem to want to talk about. In my experience – and this is only my experience! – it seems that people here don’t really like to talk about emotions so much. Everything is very sunny, very casual, very fun. But this is an obvious problem when things aren’t so sunny or casual or fun. Sometimes life gets really challenging, and if you don’t have a community to discuss that with, and you can’t match the sunny disposition you think the people around you expect, you can feel a sense of stigma in your pain. I don’t like the phrase mental illness – it’s all pain, in varying degrees. I definitely think there is a stigma around pain in Australia, because people (in my experience!) don’t like to talk or hear about it.

There seems to be some really inspiring expressions of mental illness that I’ve seen lately, like Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half essay about depression. Do you think there’s growing momentum to share experiences like this online? What’s driving this?
Allie Brosh is my hero. I think the internet has given us an incredible opportunity to connect to one another and have conversations that we otherwise may never have. This is a big part of my thesis (I am doing a PhD on the ideas behind This Place is Yours through the Institute for Culture & Society at UWS and the Young and Well CRC) but in a nutshell, the internet allows us to open up with the world because I think it provides us with a sense of detachment to what we are saying. We are speaking through a screen, so it’s a really interesting way to communicate. It can be very harmful (particularly for those who confuse Facebook with reality) but also pretty incredible, as is the case with Hyperbole and a Half. The internet also provides greater potential for us to find other people who may understand what we’re going through, because it brings down the traditional boundaries of time and space. And finally, I think it can be an extremely confessional medium, which is a wonderful thing. Some things cannot be said so easily, but they can be expressed through creativity online.

How did the idea for the project come about?
Initially This Place is Yours was going to be a completely different project. I first conceived of it when I was working at Oyster – it was going to be a kind of extension of my last project, Side Street, Sydney. But then I got really depressed, and writing helped me find a way out. From the moment I blogged about my struggles with depression, people began writing me and telling me they were going through the same thing. I guess I saw that people were yearning for a community where they too could be honest about their struggles, but not everyone was going to put the time and energy into a blog. So I decided to create a kind of “blog for the masses” – This Place is Yours is a space where people can express themselves creatively and share their stories, however they choose to and whenever they want. I felt like if I didn’t have my own blog, that’s where I would go to share my own story, and hopefully find people who would understand.

Why do you think creativity can be so important in helping to treat mental illness?
I think creativity can help all of us, throughout our lives, in the good times and the bad. I think it can be particularly helpful in the bad times, because we will be more likely to be open and honest with our creativity than with anybody else. Creativity – particularly when it’s done in personal narrative – is another way of having a conversation with ourselves, and just like when we have a conversation with our friends, it’s a way of getting to know ourselves. It compels us to admit our challenges, and admission leads to acceptance, eventually. Creativity gives us insight into our lives. It propels us on a journey towards self love. Engaging with our creativity really is the best gift we can give to ourselves.

You’ve got some great speakers involved in the launch. Have you found the Australian creative community to be very receptive to This Place is Yours?
Absolutely. Cybele Malinowski was actually one of the first people I spoke to about this project, nearly two years ago, when it was a different incarnation. She has been supportive throughout the building of it, and getting someone of her talent to appreciate what I was doing was my first affirmation, in a way! And Melanie Lee and I went to the School for Social Entrepreneurs together – she is been an incredible woman who is working on her own very powerful project. I could name so many people – the team, the contributors to the book, and so many others who have agreed to let me pick their brain over a cup of coffee. I’ve had such incredible support, and I feel very blessed for it. I think people can see the need for this project and the need for us to start having more open and honest conversations.

What are you hoping to achieve with the project – what would a good outcome look like to you?
Gosh, big question. I hope people feel as though they have a place to go to share their stories, and that they start to tell them. On a personal level, I hope people witness the healing power of their own creativity, and begin to accept and love themselves. I hope they know that they’re not alone, and that there is a community of people out there who care. On a social level, this project is all about reducing stigma and cultivating empathy. Granted, I do not feel like this project alone will achieve that – it is part of a much greater movement towards emotional intelligence, and we alone do not have all the answers. But I think we are the cusp of a change, and I would be honoured if This Place is Yours played some tiny part in that.

Sunday, 26 May – 7pm to 9pm
Museum of Contemporary Art, Circular Quay
Tickets are $15/$10 –
This Place is Yours (book) is available for purchase via select stockists and here.



Interview by Sonia Clarke