180 Seconds With Mitch Wallis

In May 2017, Mitch Wallis launched the Heart On My Sleeve Movement, posting a video to social media sharing his experience with mental illness. That night he was on The Project and within a week the video had reached over one million people on Facebook. Others quickly followed suit, drawing a heart on their arm and sharing their story via social media. The movement offers individuals a platform to express themselves on their own terms, to be heard, and without having to wait for someone to ask them if they’re alright. And it’s clear that people love the concept – I met Mitch at a café in Neutral Bay and the owner was walking around with a heart drawn on her arm. It’s a symbol of people in your tribe.

It all started with a conversation. Mitch had just moved back home from a stint living in the States, where he worked for Microsoft, and was having coffee with a friend, talking about some of the stuff he was going through. His friend was amazed at how open Mitch was being, telling him “I’m surprised at how real you’re being and wearing your heart on your sleeve.” And thus the idea for the movement was born. Mitch walked out of the café, went home, and began filming his story.

Could you please share a little bit about your own mental health and what inspired Heart On My Sleeve?

I’d always experienced incredible tension between who the world saw me as and who I knew myself to be. I also struggled to keep what felt like a volcano of emotions at bay. I’d always thought that as long as I was successful at what I was doing, whether it was school, or work, that there was no point in slowing down and trying to figure things out. However, a couple of years ago I was stressed at work and there were a few other things going on and my mental health started to deteriorate at a rate that I couldn’t manage.

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In my darkest hour I turned to the internet, which isn’t a good thing to do, but I came across this guy’s story and it changed my life forever, because it was the first time in my life that I felt understood. It was the first time that someone had been truly vulnerable enough for me to be able to connect with them. In that moment I sort of realised that suffering comes in two parts. One part is our experience, so the depression, anxiety, etc. and the other part is our relationship to that experience, so the narrative we tell ourselves, things like ‘I’m weak,’ ‘I’m broken,’ ‘there’s something wrong with me.’ And by connecting with just one other person, I really felt that that second part fell away and allowed me to find all of this new space.

So I promised myself that if I ever felt stable enough I would try and help as many people as I could to feel this same connection.

What has been the most challenging part about starting and growing Heart On My Sleeve?

I would say, three things. Firstly, that things aren’t happening as quick as I’d like them to. I’m someone who runs a million miles an hour and I have many big ideas and I want them all to be out. Secondly, funding. Starting any business is hard, let a lone a non-for-profit. Creating a sustainable model is a slog. And then thirdly, doing things in the right way, doing it safely and with an impact and that there’s a reason for us to exist.

What is one standout moment you can recall since launching Heart On My Sleeve?

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Its hard to stop and take note of what you’ve done because you’re constantly wanting to do more, to help more. I think it was after the first week when we though ‘shit this is something’. We looked on Facebook and the media we had driven, and the enormity of it all hit us. The coolest feeling was when all these people started to come and tell their story. I think after establishing a board, and hiring strategic advisors who told us we could do more, that was a really good sign.

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What does the future hold for Heart On My Sleeve?

Our mission is to humanise mental health, one heart felt mission at a time. Our overall objective is to reduce self-stigma by 50% in the next 3 years and to inspire 3 million real conversations. I say real conversations because at the moment, people are asked to speak up with no direction and so we rally around 3 pillars – social story telling, accessible education, and modern education. For us, we are going to continue the movement, but expand upon ways for people to express their story. We are going to be creating a national pledge campaign, launching an e-learning program, and launching two peer-support programs. Ultimately we’re a digital first community, so a lot of this will be online.

What do you think individuals, communities and society at large, can do to increase mental health literacy and care?

I am big fan of moving beyond awareness. We need to get to a stage where we move beyond acknowledging that there’s a problem. So when people say to me ‘What can I do?’ I say lead by example; bring your authentic self into every interaction you can, when you are not doing well, have the courage to ask someone for help, and when you have a story that could help someone else, have the guts to be able to share it. So when people ask ‘How do I get involved?’ I say live it, truly live it.

What are some of the ways you look after your own mental health?

I believe there is no such thing as being ‘fixed’, so for me, it is more about maintenance and management. I look at it with respect to 3 core aspects. The first is my relationships, making sure that I am keeping in constant communication with the people I am close to and care about, focusing not just on frequency but the quality of time I spend with them, and really leaning on them when I need help. The second is body-based practices. For me, I live in my head way too much, so once a day, I will do something to move more into my body. Whether it be a freezing cold shower, going on a run, jumping up and down on the spot or holding my breath, these practices allow me to become more grounded, rather than having that feeling like you are living outside your body. The third is reflection. I do a lot of reflecting, which draws on story-telling. Journaling about my day helps me process what is going on in my life and also helps me notice if I am feeling unstable or like the ground is moving too quickly beneath me, which usually comes back to my propensity to do too much too quickly. This allows me to check in with my self.

What’s really exciting it that we’re at the very start of a journey, we’ve built an amazing community, and similar to what One Eighty is doing, we’re doubling down on what we are at our core and that is a community of story tellers.

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Instagram: @heartonmysleeve & @mitch.wallis

Interview by Samantha Callender

Edited by Claudia Farnsworth


Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000.

Leanne Westlake