With | Lucie VAN DER SANDE

Lucie’s own experiences with mental health issues that proved threatening to her studies, social life and overall health led her to conceptualize ‘Insane’ – an online media dedicated entirely to mental health.

WE MAG interviewed this young French based entrepreneur to understand the passion which drives her and what inspired her to launch ‘Insane.’

WE MAG (WM): Please share a brief background about yourself.

Lucie VAN DER SANDE (Lucie): I am French and Syrian; I grew up mainly in Syria and came to France alone at 18 to start college at a top-level political science university. Despite my difficulties linked to terrible mental health episodes, and with help from my school’s disability department, I graduated with a master’s degree in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action in June 2017. I am now 26, married for a year and a half, with two cats, and I’m the proud founder of Insane, an online media dedicated to mental health! Also, I’m doing pretty well now, with regards to my mental health.

WM: What makes you so passionate about the cause of mental health?

Lucie: I guess it’s the fact that I’ve been there. I’m still there, actually. And I realize, now that I am aware of the help that exists and of all the warning signs that one can pick up, that I’ve lost years of my life due to mental illness, and that all that suffering I went through…still go through some days…could have been avoided. And that makes me angry.

I am now aggressively hopeful, because I know that mental health issues can be dealt with swiftly, efficiently, and early. We “just” have to get the word out about it, have to ensure that actual, affordable, science-backed help is available to all, and shatter the stigma that still shrouds the topic of mental health. I’m seeing, hearing about young and old people suffering alone, thinking they’re at the end of their rope and there’s nothing ahead for them but darkness, loneliness and guilt, and my heart shatters once more. But I’ve been through hell – and back. I know there’s a way back and I’m willing to show it to people.

But mental health is a topic people shy away from. They keep telling me, at best, “I don’t know anything about that, so I can’t talk about it, it’s something I’m not comfortable with”. And I’m like, “But dear, everyone’s got a mental health! Just like everyone’s got a physical health”, even though the two are actually one because mental illness is located in your brain. I wish people understood that they’re entitled to ask questions, to enter a topic they don’t know everything about, and I wish doctors weren’t so shy about it either.

That’s why I’m passionate about mental health — because it enters every single area of your life, because it can cause tremendous pain, it’s literally a matter of life and death, and because that pain can be healed. I am not willing to let anyone die because they thought they were alone and useless — they’re not either of those things. And I’m going to keep telling them that.

WM: What is ‘Insane’?

Lucie: Insane (logo on the right), as I briefly mentioned before, is a 100% online, 100% free, 0% ad media that’s dedicated to mental health. More precisely, it aims to offer concrete advice, practical and reliable info, and positive stories of people with mental health challenges, to people who experience mental illness themselves or have a loved one who does (or several!).

The idea is that, on the Internet or in print magazines or in a doctor’s office, you can find that reliable info. You can find those solutions that you desperately need to make a better day-to-day life for yourself when you have mental health issues. But they’re difficult to access, they require hours spent on forums or Facebook groups or looking for the right therapist, loads of money and/or waitlists to access those therapists’ services, and lots of determination to tell the good from the bad. And when you’re sick, so sick that you can barely keep yourself alive, or so tired from caring for a loved one that your own mental health is starting to suffer, you don’t have either the time or the resources to look for all that. So Insane’s there to make all that easier for you. 

Also, truth be told, in online as well as print magazines that touch the topic of mental health, reading that you’ll probably feel depressed if you weren’t already. The colours are either aggressive white and red, or sickly green, and the texts and navigation are complicated or simply unreadable on a mobile phone or even a simple website. Mentally ill people are tired people. They need something easily readable, a simple website navigation system, articles that give them actual solutions other than “go see a therapist”, and the whole of that in an optimistic, easily accessible tone and heart-warming colours. So that’s Insane : https://insane-mag.com.

WM: How did the idea of Insane come about?

Lucie: Well, honestly, the circumstances weren’t ideal. I had completed my master’s degree for about 9 months, I wasn’t finding employment (at least not a job that didn’t require that I be available on evenings and weekends as well as have their office over an hour away from my home, all of that for a barely-over-minimum wage), and my depression was slowly creeping back in. So one day, tired from the searching and not finding, I took some Post-its, a pen, and I started writing what I liked, what I knew I was good at (that was the most difficult part, I must say), what was non-negotiable, etc. It took me several hours. But when my now-husband came home in the evening, I had come up with an idea… that was not Insane at all! I wanted us to buy a caravan, and for me to go give talks about mental health in all of France while my husband would work as a freelance web developer from the back of said caravan. Ha, it’s still funny to think about.

Then my husband told me the price of a caravan and how he needed an excellent, not just okay, Internet connection and my project died right away. It’s okay! It was an aborted project, that let me make space for another: what’s Insane today. Because I thought, well, hey, if I can’t move all throughout France, maybe I can have my project, my talks, my mental health awareness-making… Maybe I can do that by creating the French version of an English-speaking magazine I loved (still do) at the time called The Mighty, a magazine dedicated to health (including mental health) and disability. And while I was crafting an email to the magazine, I thought, well… Since there are some things I find disappointing, some things I’d like to change… why not create my own media? And that’s how Insane came about.

WM: The term ‘Insane’ is usually seen in a negative connotation. What made you choose this particular word as the name of your initiative?

Lucie: It is. It definitely is. Well, as I explain in the pinned post of my Facebook page (because I’ve had a lot of criticizing and people who don’t understand my choice), it’s deliberately that I chose a word that’s really an insult, that has so much negativity attached to it, in order to reclaim it. No one gets to insult us. Yes, we are mentally ill. Yes, we are probably what’s called insane. We are the definition of insane: not right in the head. Because something is wrong with our brains. But that doesn’t mean anyone gets to make us feel bad about it — we’re already suffering, thank you very much! And our loved ones are suffering with us. So, I say to those people who want to diminish us and make us go die alone in our lonely homes: f**k off. We’re insane and that’s alright. We’ll get better — you might not. On a side note, I’ll add that several movements have done the same: the Black movement reclaimed the N-word, the LGBTQ+ movement reclaimed some other insulting words… It’s also a way of tipping my hat to them and feeling closer to them, making Insane more inclusive.

The second, less obvious reason I chose Insane as a name… is its meaning in Arabic (and Turkish apparently but I didn’t know that at the time). Insan, pronounced without the e at the end, means “human being”. And I loved the idea: what you see first is an insane, crazy person — and when you look a little closer, what you see is actually just a human being, deserving of love, compassion and consideration, just like any other.

WM: What is ‘Insane’ going to look like? What kind of content is included in it and what sections are there on the website?

Lucie: The website is, for now (screenshot below), made up of only written articles (written and arranged so that visually impaired people can have it read easily on their phones or laptops) and there are no sections, as you can see. But this is going to change really soon! My husband, who made this first website, is working on a second version: I’m so happy about it, you have no idea. It’s going to look much better, there will be sections, and it’ll pave the way for the possibility to create a reader account, post comments, etc. and for us to add videos and podcasts to the written articles (which will also help for visually impaired people, for instance). The videos and podcasts will systematically be transcripted and include subtitles, so that hearing-impaired people can also enjoy them.

As for the sections, I can already tell you that there will be a section dedicated to stories of people, either who have mental health issues themselves (like this one), or stories from their loved ones, and even stories by people on the other side, psychiatrists (like that one), psychologists, etc. There will also be an SOS/How to… section on different topics, like how to find (and keep) a good psychiatrist. There will be an Action section, for all the articles that tell of actions undertaken in favour of mental health awareness or better mental healthcare. There will also be an Art section, dedicated to either artists who themselves have mental health issues, or art that deals with the topic of mental health. And finally, we’ll add a proper What’s up section, for anything concerning Insane itself.

WM: What has been the response to ‘Insane’ so far? Any particular feedback you would like to share, which has stayed with you.

Lucie: So far the response has been pretty amazing! We are using Facebook ads to help people be aware that Insane exists (it’s a competitive world out there!) and people have started liking the Facebook page much, much more… We regularly have people who tell us that what we’re doing is really necessary and should absolutely be more well-known.

I have started to offer workshops on mental health awareness and suicide prevention, or on self-confidence and self-esteem, and people were very happy with those, too!

There’s also people who don’t like the name, and I respect that. But I think that, when I explain when it comes from, most of them understand and don’t think about it negatively anymore.

WM: How can people across geographies access ‘Insane’? 

Lucie: Well, that’s why I’ve made Insane 100% free! It’s also available in two languages already (French and English, many more to come!), and my husband takes care that the website isn’t too heavy to load, for people who don’t have too great an Internet connection.

WM: What would be your message to those who are fighting with mental health issues?

Lucie: You can’t know what’s ahead, you literally cannot know the future. So, you just don’t yet know what beautiful things await you. They’re worth it, so please stay ; you’re not alone, you can win this war, there are people who love you and would miss you so very much. My best advice is: take things one at a time. One day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time. It can and will get better.

About Lucie VAN DER SANDE:

Lucie VAN DER SANDE, 26 years old, founder of Insane – the mental health media, currently lives in Tours, France, with her husband and two cats.

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