The Butterfly Project

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It is the twenty-first century and mental health is still a taboo topic within most communities. According to research, almost 9 out of 10 people believe that stigma against mental health makes their situation even worse than it already is.

Image Source: Nathan McDine

It’s both appalling and insensitive to discriminate against someone for something that is not their fault and yet I’ve personally come across people that say “How can someone cut themselves?” “That’s disgusting!” “She’s being dramatic!” “You’ll go to hell for this!” and so much more. Recently, the world was left speechless as a thirty-four-year-old celebrity committed suicide. More so because the image of fame and money being our sole road to happiness was completely shattered. Furthermore, the world began to realize that depression isn’t as obvious as we make it sound. A man of unfiltered excitement smiles and hope had been silently suffering all the while. Shockingly, the celebrity has recently starred in a movie based on suicide and why life is worthwhile despite the troubles that come forth. The picture-perfect image we had painted in our minds about the reality of mental health was destroyed, as it should have been centuries ago. During the school days, I had come across a number of peers that suffered from depression but were afraid to mention it to their parents or get professional help. Some of my own friends often shrugged off anyone’s cry for help and used sentences such as “Grow up. It’s not his/her fault. You’re overreacting.” The conversation itself began to feel like I was burdening my loved ones or as if speaking about mental health wasn’t for children. Being from an Indian community, the idea of mental health doesn’t even exist. Parents are allowed to feel hurt, angry, and frustrated. Adults were given the right to scream, throw items around the house, cry, and even yell out their thoughts of wanting to end their lives but God forbid if a child said so much as an “I’m hurt.” The thought itself of having depression is unspeakable and it’s even labeled as “disrespect” to show one’s frustration. To make matters worse, privacy does not exist in Asian communities and communities similar to them. One cannot keep a diary or try to journal without their parents or siblings reading their personal things behind their backs. My pen often shuddered as I attempted to write on mental health, afraid of the consequences that will birth from society.

This article focuses on exactly that. Damned, be the judge. A few years ago, an article by the world health organization mentioned that 450 million people worldwide suffer from a mental disorder. As the years have progressed, so has that number. This is so intense that a person dies of suicide every forty seconds in the world. That means that by the time you finish this article, more than four people would have committed suicide and many more would have attempted it and failed. However, to ease the minds of our youth, it is also true that as much as some people are inconsiderate about these issues, there are people who have stepped up and taken the responsibility to try and help in any way they can. This includes people who have started initiatives such as the butterfly project for self-harm. Butterflies have long been a symbol of hope, endurance, and change and most importantly: life. In Christianity, the butterfly is a symbol of resurrection and several cultures intertwine the symbolism of butterflies to one’s soul. So much so that white butterflies even symbolize spiritual and personal transformation. Once one understands the symbolism, it’s no surprise that the butterfly project has become a way for those who self-harm to control the urge to cut and it allows them support and motivation. The act itself is simple, one draws a butterfly on whichever part of their body they harm and name the butterflies after their loved ones. The idea is to “save the life of the butterfly” by abstaining from self-harm. Every time one cuts themselves, it is as if they have killed the butterfly. Another way to take part in the project is by wearing a bracelet and purchasing butterfly charms (or any charms that are symbolic to you and mean something) and after every week of not cutting, adding a charm to the bracelet. In that way, one’s progress can also be tracked, and just looking at the charms would motivate one to continue down their road of self-love. The best part about the butterfly project is that you don’t have to do it for personal reasons only. You can do it for support and it won’t cost a cent. Someone might look at the butterflies on your wrist and actually feel like they’re not alone. Another way to support someone with mental health issues is the semi-colon method. People around the world have been getting semi-colon tattoos for the past few years in support of anyone suffering from depression. The idea behind it is not only pleasing in terms of grammar but also makes us realize the significance of ourselves in our own stories. We’re taught to understand that we are the writers of our lives and just as a semi-colon is used when a writer CAN end the sentence but chooses not to, the same way, despite all troubles and traumas we can choose not to end our lives. Our story still continues as our sentences flow and paragraphs form. Both of these methods are low profiled and encourages the youth to speak out about their mental health without having to actually say a word. Through correct methods of education and transferring knowledge, we can make the youth and accepting adults aware of these two methods so that children and teenagers can ask for help while simultaneously keeping safe from society’s judgmental gaze. If one is still afraid of asking for help and cannot seek to see a counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist, one can use cost-free or cost-effective, home-based ways to cope that won’t even raise an eyebrow from people around. One of these things can be exercise, which releases endorphins, reduces inflammation in the brain, and promotes neural growth. It also helps with self-esteem and higher energy levels. Another way is to focus on eating foods such as salmon which is linked to improving mental health because it contains omega-3 fatty acids, chicken which helps your body produce serotonin, spinach which had folic acid and can reduce depression, yoghurt which is a source of probiotics and can reduce stress and dark chocolate which contains flavonoids that assists in positively impacting one’s mood (It is also by far the most pleasing foods on the list to devour) Overall, to whoever is reading this: take in your surrounding and those around you. Observe people from a different angle and notice how many of them are silently suffering, help them. Drop the misconceptions and stigma linked to mental health and listen to what people are too afraid to say. If you see someone with a butterfly or semi-colon imprinted onto their skin, take them aside and ask them how you can help and most importantly, give your mental health the priority it deserves. We lose too many people to depression, to something that can be changed with a little more effort. Take the first step!