Tell me Zoe, why did you create Care Labels For Humans?

Well…

For as long as I can remember I have experienced seasons of low mood, but I find that even if I feel quite down, I can still feel like attending events and mixing with people.

If I’m having a bad day, I push myself to approach new people, strike up some small talk and make a connection.

Zoe E Breen

Or sometimes I don’t. Instead I sit quietly on the edge of things, wishing I felt more sociable or that someone would just come and talk to me.

One thing that I have learnt is that almost nobody enjoys the awkwardness of having to ‘break the ice’ at these kinds of events. I just think it’s harder if you feel, think or communicate differently from other people.

The birth of Care Labels For Humans

One day in 2014, when I was feeling particularly reflective, I mused upon the fact that the clothes we wear carry care labels so when we put them in the laundry we know how to look after them to keep them at their best.

And I asked myself – how come there was something like this for our clothes but not for ourselves?

In that moment Care Labels For Humans was born.

I’m going to fast-forward through some of the next bits. What you do need to know is that over the following years I experienced what I now describe as ‘catastrophic loss’.

This included the death of my 90-year-old grandmother Muriel (my mum’s mum) in 2015, and then losing my mother, who was just 69, to pancreatic cancer in 2016.

In 2014, shortly before these events I lost my dear cat Cosmo who had been with me through thick and thin for sixteen years.

They were not easy times and I needed Care Labels more than ever.

OK, so what are Care Labels For Humans?

It was through attending a F*ck It ‘Do What You Love’ retreat in Italy in 2017 that I was finally to reflect on what really mattered to me. When I got home, I started work to prototype and test a very basic version of Care Labels For Humans.

This is probably a good point to illustrate what Care Labels For Humans looks like now. You can wear your Care Labels on your lanyard card at event. This video might give you a better idea of how they work.

The card has space for your name, your name on social and your preferred gender pronouns.

You can then add labels which describe how you would like others to approach you, how you’d like them to behave around you and the kinds of things that are important in your life.

So, in the example you see here. The flower represents openness, inviting others to ‘step right up’, the dots in the circle mean you can ‘ask me anything’ and my interest labels are travel, healthy habits and shows.

The current deck features 3 ‘Approach’ Labels (A), 6 ‘Behaviour’ Labels (B) and 22 ‘Chat / (Self)-Care Labels.

And what can I do to help?

I’ve had so much great feedback from user testing mostly done with my Manchester Girl Geeks group, and from people suggesting different applications of Care Labels For Humans that I’m now developing several related products which I plan to bring to market later this year.

I’m running a Crowdfunder campaign to raise money to pay a third party to undertake a product validation project. I work full time so it’s not something that I can do myself.

I’ve produced some great rewards for the Crowdfunder, as well as event kits, there are Care Label definition cards and an exclusive journal which allows you to reflect on your Care Labels privately.

This project has been a labour of love for me for over five years. Many hours of love, thinking and cutting up coloured paper have been involved.

I am deeply grateful for any contribution that you can make. Please pledge and share with anyone else you think might be able to support Care Labels For Humans.

I’ve only got until 18th September to raise the funds and every bit of support really does help and any pledges will be very gratefully received.

Zoe E Breen is a Digital Producer and Product Designer, you can find her at @ZoeEBreen on Twitter

Care Labels For Humans can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @CareLabels4

Unfiltered Talks: mental health out in the open

Meaningful connections in a digital age

Unfiltered Talks is a series of events founded by Amazing Minds, WeAreASSIF and 0161Marketing ‘in an attempt to Empower, Inspire and Improve direct and indirect sufferers of mental health issues‘.

The Unfiltered Talks banner declares ‘Empower, Inspire, Improve’, and the line up of panellists delivers on this message, but gave so much more.

This event has a distinctive flavour – an openness and honesty that many speaking line ups don’t often allow space for.

Beth Wilshaw from mental health startup WeAreASSIF artfully mixed direct questions from audience members with those submitted through online platform slido.com (this also allows anonymous questions).

The speakers

Each guest took a few minutes to tell their story, each speaking honestly about their lived experiences of mental distress, as well relating this to the suffering of friends and family and wider society.

Emilia Kolbjørnsen – Manchester Girl

AKA @itsAmeliaKoko, Emilia who is a marketing specialist, spoke about her difficult and disjointed childhood growing up in different countries and struggling to find her place in the world.

From her teenage years depression and anxiety followed her around as she moved from one country to another.

Working hard and playing hard took their toll and Emilia took stock of her support network with a ‘friends cleanse’. She says:

Diet is so much more than what you’re eating. It’s what you’re seeing and experiencing, including the people around you.

It was at this point she connected with women’s friendship network Manchester Girl where she now volunteers as community manager.

While Emilia urges others to watch their ‘mental hygiene’ with social media, she’s also keen to point out the abundance of opportunities our online connections can bring in terms of friendship and community.

You can hear Emilia speaking to Bilal Jogi in the latest edition of the Amazing Minds podcast.

Bilal Jogi – Amazing Minds

Bilal (@iambilaljogi) talked with welcome openness about his history of panic attacks and anxiety. He’s researched a wide range of drug-free approaches to managing his condition, including vitamin and mineral supplements which he feels have helped him a lot.

It’s taken time for Bilal to find the things that help his anxiety and he’s put much time and effort into understanding the thought processes that underpin his panic attacks.

He warns others not to use online advice to self-diagnose by searching for answers online:

People want quick answers – it’s a huge problem because people google symptoms, but we’re vulnerable. Don’t do it. Be careful what you read and listen to.

Omar Latif

Omar is about to launch WeAreASSIF a new platform which empowers people to manage their own mental wellbeing by engaging with artificial intelligence (AI) tools and innovative approaches to content delivery.

I had heard Omar speak before about the loss of a very close friend to suicide. This time expanded on the impact of this experience, readily expressing the negative effect these events had had on his mental health.

WeAreASSIF is at a very exciting point as the app prepares for launch later this year. Although social media is a vital part of product promotion, Omar worries about the effect it’s having on our minds:

It’s scary how the need for [social media] validation changes us. It can be a ‘bad garden path’ to poor mental health. These apps are keeping people hooked – delete and unfollow!

A very healthy evening

Unfiltered Talks had a very different feel to many evening speaking events. By keeping speaker introductions brief there was lots of time and space for questions and chat.

The size and intimacy of the venue were just right and comments from the audience were welcomed and responded to, the atmosphere was more friendly debate than straight content delivery from the speakers.

I certainly came away feeling uplifted and I’m very much looking forward to the next Unfiltered Talks event.

Photographs courtesy of Unfiltered Talks / Amazing Minds.

You must be Barking (Tales)

Picture courtesy of Harriet Dyer / Barking Comedy

I’m not quite sure when I came across stand-up comedian Harriet Dyer, but I think it was nearly five years ago at the Addictive Comedy night (alas no more) at Nexus Art Cafe in Manchester.

Harriet spoke candidly but hilariously about her history of mental illness and addiction to alcohol. Sometimes it’s the darkest material that can bring a sense of connection with the audience.

Strangely, the very next day it turned out I was in the same train carriage as Harriet and I took the liberty of introducing myself. We had a good old gossip and found out we have lots in common.

She told me about the monthly comedy night she’d set up called Barking Tales and how it was a haven for the socially awkward – including herself!

The rise and rise of Harriet Dyer

I continued to follow Harriet’s progress, mostly from a distance as I like going to bed quite early. I saw her appear on BBC Ouch, and rack up a series of Edinburgh shows and start to get recognition for her work.

Most recently, Barking Tales won a City Life award for Best Comedy Night in Manchester. When I read a BBC piece about Harriet’s work I decided it was finally time that I postponed bedtime and got down to the gig.

Light, sound and giggles all round

There are several things that makes Barking Tales more inclusive than most comedy nights. Doors open at 7pm and the show finishes around half past ten. There’s no ticket price but you are asked to ‘pay as you feel’ on the way out.

I arrive just as the show is kicking off. I am delighted to see that there is full, but not too full house for the three acts due on that night.

The place feels instantly welcoming and I take a seat towards the back. I am sitting next to Vanessa and Geoff who have clocked I’m taking notes. I tell them I have a mental health blog and they become my gig buddies.

As Harriet takes to the stage she’s at pains to make sure the audience are comfortable. Nothing’s too much trouble. The lights are adjusted at the request of a couple of punters and the sound levels are also sensitively altered during the evening.

The line-up…

First up is Scott Gibson who is preparing for his Edinburgh show. A straight-talking Glaswegian, Scott references his own dark moments before launching into a routine that can only be described as going from self-deprecating to self-defecating.

Lindsey Davies lives locally in Leigh but is recovering from a panic attack on the way back from a trip to Amsterdam. She talks about her anxiety disorder before riffing on her son’s ADHD, being a ‘Grandma’ at 42 and getting back in the dating game only to be branded a ‘cougar’.

Steve Harris quips about childhood Tourettes and losing weight as an adult. He lunges from harsh 1970s parenting to strange incidents in the gym. Steve plays the guitar (a bit) and his style reminds me of Graham Fellowes creation John Shuttleworth (in a good way).

Can I go to Barking Tales?

Barking Tales comedy night logo.

You totally should. I went on my own on a Wednesday evening in central Manchester and had a lovely time.

Yes, you can. The best place to find out information is on the Barking Tales Facebook Page or by following Harriet Dyer on Twitter.

You can also find more Harriet Dyer goodness on her regular podcast Don’t Worry, Bi (Polar) Happy on Podbean, Stitcher or Apple iTunes.

Psst…

Harriet did this rather stunning interview with comedian Sofie Hagen on her Made Of Human podcast. Harriet talks about her mental health history and how Barking Tales is an open space for people who are different. There are trigger warnings.