Following the launch of Lunacy, Amber Rose Pretorious opened up about what made her feel the need to create a local platform to share stories of mental health challenges and triumphs. In this interview, she chats to former colleague and current friend and collaborator, Cayleigh Bright, about the mental health moments that the pair have shared, the importance of a good name and the right colour palette, and the value of therapy. 

Cayleigh Bright: Naming your account “Lunacy” must have been a highly intentional choice – this is a term that has loads of stigma attached to it. Could you tell us a little about the thought process behind reclaiming this quite beautiful word? 
Amber Pretorious: Right? It’s funny though, out of all the names I ever been called, ‘Lunatic’ hasn’t been one, at least not yet. When I started thinking of a name, I wanted it to represent mental health stigmas in a fairly light-hearted way. ‘Lunatic’ was a little harsh, even for me. So I researched further, and found ‘Lunacy’ quite friendly to look at. I worried people might find it offensive but then I also thought it was quite a beautiful word. So here we are!

CB: As with most creative processes, I imagine that the creation of this platform was a long time in the making. Can you pinpoint one moment at which you knew that it was useful, worthwhile, and necessary? 
AP: A few months ago, I stumbled upon an account called SickSadGirls, where they share people’s stories about all things health: medical, mental, physical. I loved the idea and ended up sharing my own story there. The comments of support were so overwhelming and kind, I thought I had to try and start something like that here. 

CB: Making mental health awareness accessible without becoming flippant is often a difficult balance to maintain. How have you done this?
AP: The platform has been created to be a place anyone can fit in, whether you’re there to share your story on mental health, to find someone to relate to, or perhaps just to be a silent reader. You don’t need to be a well-dressed style icon or someone who appreciates typography. You are you, and there are so many of us out there who struggle, who need a helping hand – for goodness sake, I have probably spent more time scrolling Instagram and Facebook than I have in my therapist’s room this month. 

I’ve designed it fairly simply. No over-edited portraits, flashy fashion or being judgy with submissions. If you want to post a picture of you in the Nemo tank at the Aquarium, I’m all for it. People like to look at good-looking things too. For the first few posts that were just typography, I saw the number of designers, and Instagram handles ending in typography lovers liking the post, but then there are the normal, unedited accounts that actually start reading and following. They’re here for the stories, the colour, and perhaps the odd Brené Brown quote.

I do also have some quote-posts on the account, although I get distracted by quotes. In general, they rather tick me off but it’s because I’m seeing the quotes I’ve seen since day one of my diagnosis. ‘This too shall pass!’, ‘Fight, Stay Strong’. I do, however, understand that there are people who need these quotes to get through a day, to share with someone or to simply relate to for a quick second. I even have a ‘Hold On’ tattoo on my wrist circa 2010. So the quotes I choose come from a deeper place, from the books I’ve read, people I’ve met, from TedTalks and podcasts. One of my personal favorites I have yet to post is from a podcast I listened to where they said ‘Anxiety is just unprocessed sound’. Perhaps another tattoo?

As the account grows from here, I want to start sharing advice pieces and podcast episodes and highlight accessible organisations who help us get through these tough times. In the end, there’s no content calendar or a plan to make money out of this. I just want it to be there when people need to get help, share, feel heard or just exist. 

I’d like the account to be dictated by the followers’ content but facilitated by Lunacy platform. The posts will be relevant, unscripted, filled with personal stories, and, soon, advice pieces. 

CB: Mental health concerns span all age groups and demographics – some with better access to resources like therapy than others. What are some ways in which you’ll make sure that Lunacy’s conversations are inclusive? 
AP: I’ve always said that the best opportunity I was given by my parents was therapy. I often joke, but I don’t believe I’d be sitting here answering your questions if I hadn’t been launched into that chair at 17. That being said, once you grow up and start paying your own bills, these kinds of opportunities sometimes have to take a back seat. A little context for you: my therapy costs R951,40 a session (one hour), and in order for my medical aid to cover it each year, I have to sign a Prescribed Minimum Benefits form. In order to qualify for PMB, you need to have a chronic diagnosis, and in order to receive a chronic diagnosis you have to see a psychiatrist which, mind you, costs double your therapy bill.

I take my therapy seriously and almost never skip a session. There are times though, and this actually happens often, where I would leave therapy feeling stable and then a week of depression and anxiety hell starts to unfold the very next day. And now? It’s not like I can go back and try again, I have to wait another two weeks, if not a month.

Therefore, I want the platform to grow into a place where people can find stories or advice at any time, from people with degrees or from people who’ve just been through it all. This is about your mental health. This is about your story, whether you’re 12 or 62 – mental health, unfortunately, doesn’t discriminate against anyone, so why should we?

CB: Creating a visual representation of a complex conversation like the one around mental health can’t be easy. Could you tell us a little about how you’re doing this?
AP: If anyone knows me well, they know my go-to is always something simple and I think that’s also important for what I’m trying to achieve with Lunacy. There are so many accounts aimed around mental health, filled with quotes, many colours, hand-drawn clouds with soft pastels and then highlighter red to end it off. With Lunacy I chose a serif for starters, because I’ve always felt like I have my shit together when I successfully use a serif in design. With the colours, I’ve been obsessed with that obscene blue for years, even after talking about highlighter red. It’s brash, it’s bold, it’s strong – I mean, sure, it’s also a default swatch in the Adobe library, but it just sits there, unappreciated and overlooked because it’s always ‘too much’. 

It’s quite fitting when I think about it – sometimes, my go-to line after a depressive episode is, ‘I’m sorry, am I being too much?’.

When it comes down to the actual content, the first few submissions all came with black and white portraits. It worked, so I kept it going. Each portrait holds that person’s story about their mental health, be it a struggle or a triumph. Some submissions have chosen to stay anonymous so I just ask that they choose a picture that means something to them at that time. 

CB: When we worked together in a highly creative and highly pressurised environment, we’d often speak about the unique pressures placed on those in the industries roughly classed as “creative”. Do you aim to angle your account towards artists, illustrators, writers, and others balancing mental health struggles with a need to produce in this very specifically ‘inspiring’ manner? 
A good few creatives most likely channel their struggles through their work these days. But do we really talk about it? Do we get honest about it? The problem with our industry is that everyone seems to be operating at 100% creativity and there are tendencies for some to feel like they’re falling behind.

I found throughout my years that the industry goes through phases of supporting mental health, and then no one talks about it again. We creatives are not short of complications. But we’re probably the first to open up about our mental health over a few tequilas and tacos. When it comes to my friends in other industries, I don’t hear about it at all.

I believe it’s up to us as a generation to change the way mental health is seen in the workplace. I’ve left both my previous jobs due to my mental health. 

How great would it be to see people from other industries sharing their mental health struggles, be it in the workplace or their career expectations? It would be another learning tool for Lunacy followers to engage in and support people from other industries.

CB: Another thing we’ve spoken about in the past is starting podcasts! So, any plans to expand Lunacy to other platforms? 
AP: Yes! Even with all the anxiety that comes along with sharing your voice over podcast platforms, I’m all in. There are days when I read, there are days I listen to music and there are other days where all I can do is listen to podcasts. I see the podcast holding similar content – interviews with the people who’ve shared their stories already, professionals, organisations. We’re still a work in progress.

CB: You’re open for submissions from your audience. What kind of stories are you hoping to hear?
AP: We are! People who struggle with mental health live in all kinds of environments, countries, cities and work in different industries. They have individual social lives, goals and aspirations. I’m looking forward to stories of triumphs or struggles with mental health. Perhaps we’ll hear some advice pieces, poems, or even have organisations simply reaching out to share their knowledge or services.

If you’d like to share your story with Lunacy, you can email lunacysaid@gmail or chat to them over on Instagram or Facebook @lunacysaid. Submissions can be anonymous. 

Got a personal story of your mental health struggles? Share it.
Got a personal story of your mental health triumphs? Share it.
Got a piece of advice for someone who’s struggling with their mental health? Share it.
Got a service that aids people with mental health issues? Share it.
Got a podcast that got you through your worst week? Share it.

In a mental health emergency, please call SADAG’s on 0800 456 789 or contact them online and let them get in touch. They’re there to talk, 24/7.