It’s everywhere. Have you seen it? It’s the rise of the rainbow. The rainbow emoji is one I started using early this year for the first time. I found a rainbow jumper in the charity shop, took a picture of me in it, stuck it on Insta, tagged it with a rainbow. The rainbow emoji found its way into my favourites. Not only mine, now I’m noticing it everywhere. I see rainbow wrapping paper and bags in the shops, bright positive patterns of spring, bold prints and devil may care fun attitudes tempting my shopping instincts. More and more tweets seem to end with a rainbow, texts too. It’s an interesting emoji to use, it doesn’t say anything much – except about an attitude maybe of hopefulness. The emoji itself is the start of the rainbow, its upward curve, not its conclusion. It literally is the rise of the rainbow.
I noticed it as part of the mental backdrop this spring, and put it to one side. A chance encounter led me to check it out and place it into a wider context. I was picking up a vintage wicker stool I’d bought on eBay and the vendor turned out to be a house stylist, the amazing Joseph Walker, who is also a set designer and furniture treasure finder on the side, selling gorgeous pieces through his website Rarrin. You can also find him on insta @r_a_r_r_i_n.
I was just telling him what I was doing with Mental Snapp our mental health app and the new meetup group #mentalhealthartists and he suddenly said “What’s your house like? We’re always looking for people doing interesting things who want to feature their house in a magazine.” I have to tell you I laughed so hard I nearly cried. My house is totally unreconstructed. I’m styling out textured wallpaper and a coloured bathroom suite. I hung up a macrame plant hanger from the suspended pine ceiling of our bathroom just a foot to the left of the original hook where the first owners did the same thing. We have decided to go with the mix of 1930 and 1970 with Charles Rennie Mackintosh curtains and skip dive for rattan sofas and jungle plants installed next to a cobbled together ladderax that my Dad put together when I was a child. I have a reputation for being supremely unhouse-proud. My friends would kill themselves laughing at the idea of my house in a magazine.
When I got home though, I looked around and I thought, no there is a story here. A kind of eco, make it happen anyway, mental health over perfectionism story. I emailed him and promised photos sometime. I felt there was something in the air. I wrote – “Have you noticed a kind of sod it post-Brexit positivity going on? And the rise of the rainbow emoji?” It gave my rainbow spotting a wider context. He replied, yes, there’s something going on. It’s one half of the two extreme threads that are out there at the moment, and it has potential.
A couple of days later an amazing individual, Amy Pollard of The Mental Health Collective, called a dinner and I was invited. The theme of the dinner was What We Share/Let’s Heal Britain, and we got together, a group of strangers, invited by her, to discuss the divides in Brexit Britain and what we could positively do about it together. There were innovation specialists, political activists, storytellers and mental health campaigners all represented and we got together and talked. There is the rise of the eco movement, the rise of the mental health movement, the dissatisfaction with conventional politics, the feeling, as Amy put it, that “It’s not that the grown ups are in another room, and they’ve got this. They haven’t got a clue. We might as well go for it.”
In forming my group #mentalhealthartists, which meets on a Thursday on the Southbank, I’d had a mini period of hypomania, a highly productive one, that has now come to an end. I’d phoned Amy in advance of the dinner and told her that if we got the #mentalhealthartists down to Parliament Square and got them to sing a few songs, we could make a difference. Maybe, maybe not. I still think it could be worth a shot. The song that we would sing, the song we sing as our signature is the one that goes ‘This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine’. You don’t get more rainbow Pollyanna than that.
Yet it is interesting that the group round the table at dinner joined in with me leading a round of This Little Light – and we discussed how you just ‘let’ your light shine, and how you can inadvertently block it. The over intellectualisation, the what if, the fight or flight schema than drives our very structured leadership structures and responses, has to somehow give way to a more instinctive, step by step, organic process as we seek our way collectively and individually towards a new kind of future. And there is a positivity mindset gaining traction in individuals, tribes, subcultures and groups that believe they can do this, not politically maybe, but through community consensus and momentum.
Trends don’t arrive out of nowhere. They come, spirited on the wind of change and out of a communal decision making mind. The rainbow emoji, with the start but not the end of the rainbow depicted, didn’t arrive in my favourites after I used it just once, purely by chance. There is something in the air. In a few years, maybe sooner, we will have some answers and a clearer sense of direction. Then maybe the rainbow on our phone will be a full one – and we can wistfully look back to this moment of possibility and think on that ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ ending.
But now there is a sense of optimism, and of an uncertain future. There is no end to the rise of the rainbow right now.
Hannah Chamberlain has worked for twenty years at the interface of mental health and the media and is the founder of Mental Snapp, an app based journaling method to manage mental health using private media diaries. She also runs regular meetup group #mentalhealthartists who use play, impro, journaling and media to practice the art of good mental health. Hannah is an accomplished speaker, writer and communicator, presenting to conferences, universities and the press. She has represented Mental Snapp on a live BBC News Channel feature, and had a full page spread in the Evening Standard. Mental Snapp has been mentioned in the Houses of Parliament after Hannah won the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs in 2017. Hannah’s mission with Mental Snapp is backed by The Stelios Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and tech for good investor Bethnal Green Ventures. Both Mental Snapp and #mentalhealthartists take this definition of mental health as their manifesto: “Good mental health is an art built on the habit of catching and appreciating very ordinary little moments. Let’s make some ordinary moments together.”