Butterflies for Mental Health

A community project aimed at promoting positive mental health is coming to Port Central. Ashley Whittington, 22, started Butterflies for the Mental Health with the backing of Lifeline Mid Coast. During the month of September, nine community services will fold 10,000 origami butterflies symbolising hope and transformation. But it doesn’t stop there. Coastbeat spoke to Lifeline’s Lisa Willows and Ashley Whittington about the way this project has developed wings of its own.  

The Butterfly Effect

The ‘Butterfly Effect’ began for Ashley Whittington in 2017. She folded an origami butterfly and gave it to a stranger experiencing a tough time. Seeing the positive shift in his mood, she realised she was onto something. When she moved to Port Macquarie, Ashley started volunteering with Lifeline and an idea took shape. 

Four women fold origami butterflies
Ashley and Port Central staff at a Butterflies for Mental Health folding event in 2020

Mindfulness and Connection

In 2020, a series of origami butterfly folding events were held at Port Central. Participants were taught how to construct the butterflies and experienced the mindfulness that comes with such an activity. 

“It gave people the chance to come together to form social connections and focus on the moment,” Ashley explains. “People are more likely to talk and listen while they’re doing something creative.”

10,000 Butterflies

Over 1000 butterflies were folded and exhibited at Charles Sturt University. In 2021, the goal has been bumped up significantly. Throughout September – Suicide Prevention Month – nine local community services will aim to fold 1000 butterflies each. Each service has a colour, and their butterflies will be added to an art piece with nine different panels. It will be displayed at Port Central and tie in with ArtWalk and Mental Health Month (October).  

“Last year we had artists doing their own interpretations,” says Lifeline’s Lisa Willows. “This year we’ve streamlined the project a little so we can produce a collaborative artwork at the end.”

The services that Lifeline Mid Coast, Endeavour Clubhouse, Local Health District, Neami, New Horizons, Charles Sturt University, Liberty, Headspace and Werin. Artist Brad Collins will adorn the walls of the nine services with origami wings and locals will be encouraged to take a photo in front of them. 

Ashley says she never imagined the project would take off in the way it has. 

“I’m happy for it to get bigger and for more people involved,” she adds. 

Public butterfly folding events will be held at Port Central on September 6 and 7 from 10am-1pm.