Théoni Fernando is one of our students in the Occupational and Organisational Psychology MSc that we run in collaboration with the University of Sussex Business School. She and her friends Chloe, Diva and Arjin are the founders of ToyBox, a start-up company that promotes mental health. I’ve asked Théoni to explain a bit about their business and how they came up with the idea.
The concept behind ToyBox is that the mind is very much like a toy box. Toy boxes are usually filled with the same type of items: teddy bears, toy cars, building blocks, etc. But the combination and actual contents vary from box to box. This is similar to the mind. Most components are the same, such as the ability to feel or to think, but for every person it’s slightly different and has a different combination. This results in different personalities and individualities. As we are all so similar yet so uniquely different, the way we cope with mental health also varies. The purpose of ToyBox is to provide services and advice tailored for each individual, as well as to create a safe space for anyone who needs it.
We first had the idea of a business to promote mental health when we were studying for an undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Kent. As students, we encountered poor mental health, whether mild or severe, and we became passionate about helping people to navigate the obstacles to access mental health services. We felt that, although steps have been taken to normalise mental health, there was still more to be done.
Since then, we’ve joined business start-up events at Kent, Sussex and outside uni. We started developing skills, learned how to pitch ideas, write business proposals, and figure out the intricacies of running a business. The project started feeling real when we wrote a 10-page business proposal and applied for 2 funding opportunities. This motivated us to get things started. We organised bi-weekly meetings and pushed our idea even further to create amazing things!
The current global pandemic has highlighted the importance of wellbeing and mental health. It has also made it difficult to provide any sort of in-person services or events. For this reason, in November 2020 we decided to launch our Instagram account @toybox_uk to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental health. Since then, we’ve also expanded into Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Spotify to reach a wider audience.
After much preparation, in January, we started themed months. Each month we tackle a different mental health issue through a variety of content. We publish posts full of information, meaningful quotes and stories of people who have struggled with mental health. We do Instagram live sessions to discuss issues surrounding the topic at hand. And we’ve also compiled a list of different media, such as tv shows, books and movies, that we think portray the mental health issue fairly. So far, we have discussed depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And this April we are discussing autism for National Autism Awareness Month.
At the end of every month and after thorough research, Arjin choreographs and performs a dance to represent the mental health topic being discussed. We hope to show people a more honest and realistic portrayal of mental health in a unique and interesting way.
I host a podcast, “MusicBox Chatters”, which also airs near the end of the month. I present the topic in an enjoyable and educational manner. Occasionally, I also invite guests with experience with the monthly topic so that they can provide an insider’s perspective. At the beginning of the month, we ask our followers on social media to share their experiences with mental health or as friends and family of somebody who have experienced it. We hope real-life first-hand stories will help to educate and raise awareness, and thus reduce the stigma that mental health issues are all bad and scary.
To wrap up the month, we host a discussion session on Zoom called “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” During these sessions, we recap the topic and give the public the chance to share their views. The event is not just for people who have experienced mental health problems. Our goal is to raise awareness. Everyone is welcome!
If you’re interested in mental health, you can follow ToyBox on Instagram @toybox_uk where you’ll find more information and links to all their other social media channels. This month ToyBox is discussing autism. You’re invited to join their FREE Zoom discussion session on the 30th of April 2021 at 1pm (BST). Sign up now