Mitch Wallis is a social entrepreneur and founder of the viral online mental health movement Heart on My Sleeve.
After graduating with a commerce degree, Wallis joined the technology industry for seven years before opening up on social media about his struggles with mental ill-health. Having struggled with severe and debilitating mental illness symptoms for most of his life, Wallis is a refreshing voice for change in the way we talk about mental health. He speaks to LSJ in the lead-up to his appearance at the 2019 FLIP Conference in Sydney in July.
Why is a movement like Heart on My Sleeve important?
Mental health is the single biggest issue facing our generation. It’s the global warming of public health. Things aren’t getting better – in fact, they’re getting worse. Heart on My Sleeve (HOMS) is determined to make a positive impact. It has become the go-to platform for giving people a voice online and empowering their story. There’s a certain realness and authenticity to our approach and community that is cutting through. HOMS is flipping the conversation from RUOK to I’M NOT OK, empowering those going through it to speak up. We can’t just wait to be asked or expect our supporters to be mind-readers. This is validated further with the launch of our service provider arm of the organisation that is offering workshops, training and consulting to organisations and individuals around how to have real conversations in safe ways. I’m excited about our ability to shift the behaviour, not just awareness, of mental health in Australia.
Lawyers are particularly bad at opening up about mental health. How can the profession tackle stigma and encourage openness?
Lawyers are like the trauma surgeons of the corporate world. Tons of pressure, tons of stress. That attracts a certain type. That type is often incongruent with vulnerability. However, if we want to make a change for others we have to lead by example. The only way we will make any progress toward people believing they are truly able to be real or bring their full self to work (or anywhere, for that matter) is if they see people walking the walk. We can talk about it being okay until the cows come home, but until people are willing to be vulnerable we won’t get anywhere. The priority is leadership. Leaders need to show people it’s okay to be human, and that the employee is valued in their totality, not just the parts they choose to show the world.
Some would say you’re incredibly brave to start this movement. Would you agree?
It shouldn’t be brave, it should just be. What’s brave is the hundreds of people who have told their story alongside me. I was the first one in this particular movement, but I certainly won’t be the last. In fact, true vulnerability in the presence of people you care about is scarier than public vulnerability. Showing someone your wounds or insecurities in a one-on-one setting is far braver than sharing to 1,000 people on Facebook. Shout out to all those who courageously open up, conversation by conversation, despite the fear of judgment.
It’s been two years since HOMS began. What have been the highs and lows you’ve experienced since then?
Every day has highs and lows. Start-up life is a grind. Founders are twice as likely to have a mental health condition or thoughts of suicide than the general population. Start-up life in a mental health organisation is a double grind. It’s hard work. You have to drink from a bottomless mimosa of extreme passion every single day in order to survive and thrive. It’s a rollercoaster. That said, it gives back way more than it takes. I have never worked so hard yet felt so fulfilled in my whole life. I wouldn’t change a thing. When you get an inbox message at 9pm on a Tuesday saying your work has saved a life, it’s all worth it. They are the moments you live for. They are the moments that make every email, presentation, excel spreadsheet, investor meeting, failure and success worth it.
You’re speaking at the 2019 FLIP conference. What can we expect?
For better or worse, I can’t be anything but authentic. It’s a raw package deal. So that has its pros and cons. Hopefully I will give a very genuine insight into what it’s like to live with mental health issues, and how we can move forward and evolve as a society toward a place of healing. I will speak a lot about corporate mental health practices, and the practical things we can do to make a difference to the way we integrate our personal and professional lives.