INTERVIEW: Ollie Aplin of Mind Journal
It’s brave to talk about your feelings. But it’s even braver to help other men do the same. Brighton designer Ollie Aplin is on a mission to help more men take responsibility for their mental health with a simple tool - keeping a journal. Here, he talks about his Mind Journal project, Kickstarter success and why traditional approaches to male mental health need shaking up.
How does The Mind Journal work?
The journal has questions, prompts and techniques I learned from my own experience - like writing a letter to someone in your life, or thinking about one thing you wished had been different about your day - all designed to get you to think more about your feelings. What do you want out of life? How do you want to feel tomorrow?
There’s no 'yes' or 'no' questions - they’re all just prompts to get you writing. You might write ‘I’m feeling shit’ or ‘This is bollocks’ and close it and walk away, but at least you’ve connected with your feelings, instead of doing nothing at all.
Why make a journal - why not an app or a website?
The writing is important. The act of moving your hand over the paper is therapeutic. Something’s unlocked in the male brain when you write by hand. I’ve tried keeping a journal on a laptop or an app - it doesn’t work.
Where did the idea for Mind Journal come from?
A mate was going through some tough stuff, seeing a counsellor: “They’ve told me to keep a journal, but I don’t know what I’m meant to write in it,” he said. Something I noticed from my own counselling sessions was that I would have stuff that I wanted to talk about, but when I got there, I wouldn’t talk about any of it. My mate was like, 'If that’s the case when you go and see a counsellor, how the hell am I supposed to do it?'
I’d been keeping a journal for years, and I wondered why there wasn’t anything out there that would give you what you’d have in a therapy session. So I thought ‘Fuck it, I can do that.'
What are your own experiences of anxiety and depression?
When my Mum died, I blocked out the funeral and everything afterwards. I was at Uni, in my last year, and just powered into passing, getting a job, paying rent... just filling the hole up with stuff and not talking about it. Then one night I woke up with a panic attack that just didn’t shift. Fear, mixed with complete depression - flashes of me killing myself, imagining I’ve slit my wrists or cut my throat. My girlfriend found a leaflet with a list of symptoms on it - I had every single one. I turned the leaflet over and it was advice about bereavement from suicide. That’s when I realised I had to talk about this stuff.
How did you feel after you shared your own personal story on Kickstarter?
The week after the campaign launched I was an emotional wreck. Guys were saying things to me like, “I’m surprised I'm still here, last week I could have killed myself, you saved my life”... all these stories coming in, all these guys saying, 'OK. Let’s talk about it.'
We can talk about this stuff. I don’t know where it’s come from, this decision that we can’t, that we’re supposed to bottle it all up and march on through.
You always kept a journal yourself - how does it help?
Keeping a journal has been so powerful for me because talking about stuff is still difficult. If the day’s going shit, I still don’t pick up the phone and tell my Dad, or my missus, or my mates. It’s usually because I don’t want their judgement, their input, their solutions. But with a journal I can just keep going and going until I’ve figured out what I’m feeling and why.
You’ve made the journal look like a desirable object - was that deliberate?
I’ve not used words like therapy or mental health or depression in the journal. I think mental health has a bad brand; it’s something guys shy away from, we switch off to it, so if we can strip that away - talk about it in a different way - then people will cotton on. It can’t be that hard, can it?
To find out more about Mind Journal, visit http://ezrt.io/fbd0a81