I have always loved to send a card. When I moved out of home, over 15 years ago to attend Uni, my sister – Trudy – and I began the ‘card game’. The premise is pretty simple. Send each other really, really good cards as frequently as possible. We’ve been playing it ever since. It’s a fabulous game for so many reasons. Firstly, it involves surprise mail in the post. Breaking up the monotony of the bank statements and electricity bills. Secondly, it is hilarious. The range of quirky, funny and downright ridiculous cards that are available for sale is incredible. And thirdly, it will ALWAYS make you feel a little bit better than however you were feeling just moments before. Always.
Card sources: Popsy Greeting Cards, An April Idea, La La Land and Able and Game
As a result, we both have an excellent working knowledge of the current Australian greeting card market. And for your make-you-feel-better-in-the-general-sense card, it’s really pretty good.
But a couple of years ago the son of a close friend of mine attempted suicide. And I didn’t quite know what to do to show my support. As someone who had worked in the mental health sector for a number of years, I knew the right things to ask her about the situation. I asked how she was sleeping. I checked on the level of care and treatment he was being given. I said I was sorry and I asked if there was anything I can do. But as a friend I wanted her to know that I cared and that I was thinking of her. And so I joked with another friend that Hallmark should release a “I’m so sorry your child tried to kill himself” card. But it really wasn’t funny at all. I had never in all my greeting card buying experience come across a card specifically for any type of mental illness and that didn’t seem quite right. And thus the seed for Hope Street Cards was sown.
That same year my Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. And whilst I was able to visit her on occasion, the 1000 kilometre distance between us made providing support somewhat more difficult. So I took to doing what I do best – sending cards. And I was blown away with the range of cancer-related cards available. From the “Fuck Cancer” card to the “If cancer was a man, I’d kick him in the balls” to the sympathetically appropriate “Sorry about your tit”. And I sent these cards off with delight.
But it was all very interesting. There was a time not that long ago when cancer was taboo. We wouldn’t tell someone we had it, let alone go out of way to support someone with it. But it appears we’re not scared anymore. And that’s great. But why the injustice? When I google mental illness card I get something quite disturbing – a card with a picture of a sticky tape dispenser. And the words – Put yourself back together! How come I can send hilarious, supportive and hopeful cancer cards, but can’t find an appropriate mental illness card. And so now the Hope Street Cards idea had formed and now I was a little angry that mental illness was not only suffering from stigma in the greater community, but also in the business of get well cards.
And then not long after I got sick. Another episode of a recurring mental illness. My third. Off I went to a private psychiatric hospital. Again. And this time I felt another anomaly. Often when I get admitted to hospital I feel the odd one out. A mental health worker becoming the mental health patient. But this time I noticed that I was one of the very few patients in the hospital who had flowers next to their bed. Who regularly received mail. Had visitors attending at all available times. And had cards of support adorning the walls. I was a statistical outlier in this hospital. I had outward displays of social support everywhere. And the research supports this.
Studies have shown that only 1 in 4 people who have experienced a mental health issue will receive a get well card during their illness, despite 80% of these individuals reporting that a card would have been beneficial to their recovery. And social support has been found to have numerous beneficial effects on recovery. Low levels of social support has been found to increase the chances of experiencing a mental illness episode and decreased chance of recovery. Whereas high levels of social support have been correlated with shorter major depressive episodes in women and predict 6-month symptom recovery. Furthermore, studies of individuals who have experienced ‘severe’ mental illnesses (schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorders, bipolar disorder or affective psychosis) found that both social network size and social support were correlated with better recovery and a reduction in symptoms. Despite this, studies have repeatedly shown that psychiatric inpatients receive about half as many cards and gifts when compared to medical inpatients. So I am just incredibly rarer and lucky. The result of having friends and family who didn’t shy away and were willing to show their love and support no matter what. And I gained so very much from this love and support. I had hope. And I knew I was loved. And being stuck in an episode of mental illness, these things were vital for me. I could not be more grateful for the support I received from those around me during this time and it is one of the reasons that I am where I am today.
And so here we are with Hope Street Cards. A very small attempt at making it a little bit easier for a friend or family member to support their loved one with a mental illness. Our dream is that each Hope Street Card enables the donor to learn more about mental illness and to show a loved one they care and will support them through their recovery in a non-judgmental, empathic and hopeful way. Showing someone that you’re thinking of them and that you care can really go a long way.