PostSecret founder Frank Warren talks mental health at KPU event
Warren explained why sharing secrets can make a difference in people’s lives
Frank Warren, the founder of the popular website project PostSecret, spoke to AU students on Monday about the secrets he holds and the stories they carry. At the event, which was co-hosted by the Kennedy Political Union and Student Government, Warren told his own story, some of the stories he has learned and gave students an opportunity to share their own.
PostSecret is an online community aimed at giving individuals all over the world the chance to share their secrets. The secrets, which come in all forms including written word, art and graphics, are things they have never said out loud, stories or truths that have affected their lives in some way, according to Warren. In addition to his website, Warren has also authored six PostSecret books that share some of the stories he has received through the PostSecret project.
According to Warren, PostSecret started with a simple vision and a modest goal: to receive 100 secrets sent in via mail at his home address. In November 2005, Warren said he decided to print out 3,000 blank postcards with his home address on them, and ventured into the city streets of Washington D.C. soliciting secrets from total strangers. Their reactions varied, Warren said.
“If you’d asked me why I was doing this, at the time, I would not have a good answer, I really didn’t know why,” Warren said.
However, as the first postcards began to trickle in, his vision became clearer, and Warren said that he realized that the project was about making connections with others. Currently, Warren has received well over 500,000 secrets, and the website has had over 700 million hits.
Among the first postcards Warren received, one stood out to him right away and reiterated the need for the project, it read: “The holes are from when my mom tried breaking down my door so she could continue beating me,” over a photo of a broken door.
To Warren, the message of the note stuck a chord with him, and the responses he has received from other notes continued to help others remember that they are not the only ones who feel pain. One of the postcards Warren received in response to the original broken door note said, “Just knowing there are other people out there who share my secret, it doesn’t make my secret go away, but it makes my burden feel just a little bit lighter.” This particular note allowed Warren to understand the community he was creating and the voices he was giving to those silenced by their secrets.
“We have these new tools available to all of us,” Warren said. “Tools that are allowing us to have new kinds of conversations, conversations that were never possible before, conversations that allow us to build communities and bring people together to tell untold stories.”
Warren said he believes that PostSecret has been successful because of the new mediums of communication that available in the current age. The influence of PostSecret, according to Warren, would have never been possible in another time because the website could not have reached the great expanse that it currently encompasses.
Throughout his presentation, Warren also talked about the effect that mental illnesses have had on his life and how his struggles have inspired him. Warren said the atmosphere that he created for PostSecret is one that allows individuals to tell their struggles with mental illness while still feeling a part of a connected, online community. He added that he has made it a personal mission to work towards destigmatizing the labels of certain conditions and creating an environment of acceptance for everyone affected.
“We know what we can do to help,” Warren said. “We know that by attacking the stigma, the shame, the stereotypes of mental illness and anxiety disorder, sharing our feelings about depression, isolation, anxiety before those feelings wall us up, before they isolate us [and] sharing our secrets, that [doing those things] can help too.”
After finishing his speech, Warren gave audience members the opportunity to share their own secrets, and many students felt compelled to share personal stories. Warren turned MGC into a safe space where secrets were expected to stay in the room.
Warren left the crowd with comforting words of parting that have inspired him.
“The children almost broken by the world, become the adults most likely to change it,” he said.