As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Kate Allan is an author, artist, and the creator of the mental health art blog, The Latest Kate. A Southern California transplant, she enjoys anything bright, fluffy, or colorful, as can be seen in her work. When she isn’t endeavoring to soak up every ray of sunshine, she works as a freelance designer and illustrator. Her encouraging work can be found in her book, You Can Do All Things: Mindfulness, Drawings, and Affirmations to Help With Anxiety and Depression, as well as online as The Latest Kate on facebook, twitter, instagram, and tumblr.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Honestly, this career path was entirely an accident. In my mid 20’s I was going through a severe bout of depression — we’re talking a constant preoccupation with suicide and basically spending all of my time escaping life through the internet. I came across a comic artist named Rubyetc who illustrated her life with depression candidly, and I realized documenting my own experiences may help me sort things into a less overwhelming perspective. Along the way I found arguing my repressive negative thoughts through the mouthpiece of sparkly cats and rainbow unicorns helped me heal and cope.
According to Mental Health America’s report,over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
I think this is mostly an awareness issue. Mental illnesses are invisible, and can often look like other things, i.e. depression can look like laziness, and anxiety can look like a person being overly dramatic. Mental illnesses are also notorious for affecting productivity, and people want to remain employable, so it doesn’t feel safe to share your struggles or experiences. I think that’s a big part of why it’s quite stigmatized; there isn’t a lot of acknowledgement of it in the media, so it’s not well understood or humanized.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
I do my best to be open and honest about what I’m going through. I think talking about mental illness when you’re in a safe position to do so helps people understand and sympathize. And honestly, I have found that often times people will relate to my experiences, even when their mental health symptoms aren’t debilitating. After all, people experience anxiety when they get laid off or fail a test. So, they can recognize the fear and panic I feel when calling to make a doctor’s appointment or when I’m trying to parallel park in a city.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
I feel strongly that the world needs more kindness and empathy. And really, I felt I had nothing to lose by being open about what I’ve gone through. I was at rock bottom when I started creating mental health artwork; it was like, “well, you can kill yourself, or you can document this and fight.” And though my depression five years later isn’t cured, I’m so glad I stuck around.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
I would love it if mental health were a regular topic of discussion! Right now I see that mental health discussions are usually centered around organizing life to be more productive. While there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that, I do think understanding self compassion and being aware of your own mind and health is incredibly important. For example, I think if there were a cultural shift to acceptance of taking a “mental health day” off was seen as a normal thing, we would all benefit. Also, absolutely everyone can gain insight from therapy, old and young, sickly and healthy; we all need it.
What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Top most boring answer: I run a few times a week, which has the combined effects of getting me in nature, kicks my body into synthesizing vitamin D, and hard cardio sometimes helps with my anxiety and my sleep issues.
- I have learned to say “no” to people, whether that means turning down a project that I can’t currently take on, or turning down an invite to a restaurant that’s out of my price range. The real key to this is having awareness of my schedule and money, which aren’t super easy to be organized about, but it’s a worthy goal to have. Also note — if people are frustrated with you for saying no, even when you explain your reasons, then it’s probably not a good relationship!
- I make an effort to be cognizant of meeting my needs, and I do this by putting myself in the mind frame of taking care of a kid version of me. What would kid Kate need? Well, she needs ample time for sleep and rest, healthy food, fun and silliness, and mental transitions, like, “in 10 minutes I am going to go do this task.” I find my mental health has improved a LOT by doing this.
- Every day I make an effort to put good out into the world. Half of this is trying to be kind to and compassionate towards others, and he other half is creating validating and encouraging artwork. Whenever my depression spirals and I feel like a failure or a waste of space, I can argue those thoughts more easily when I have recently focused on helping others.
- I try to find things to look forward to — big events like an upcoming vacation are helpful, but small things like my morning coffee and knowing I’ll be snuggling into bed at night are great for keeping my mind in a healthier place.
- I journal to argue my negative thoughts and perceptions. My journal has four rules:
1. No neatness
2. This is a judgement-Free Zone
3. Show kindness towards myself, ALWAYS
4. Write whenever I need to
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
What I find most inspiring are creators who are candid about their own mental health journeys. My favorites are the comic artists rubyetc, bethdrawsthings, and Hyperbole and a Half. I also appreciate Youtube vloggers Simon and Martina.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!