Mental illness comes in many forms, and plagues more people than most of us realize. It’s an uncomfortable topic of discussion most would like to avoid, and pretend doesn’t exist. But for artists who use their talents to raise awareness of mental illness, are doing the exact opposite. Shining a light on mental illness forces us to look at it, and talk about it. But expressing oneself through art, can be therapeutic in dealing with the demons in our head.
Here are six artists who use their talent and medium to spread awareness about mental illness, attempting to destroy the negative stigma, so we can have more open conversations that will go further in helping others, than staying silent on the matter.
1. Toby Allen
Illustrator Toby Allen created his “Real Monsters” series as a way to make them more understandable, because mental illnesses are often invisible to the eye. By illustrating depression, anxiety, OCD and paranoia as cute little monsters, it shines a brighter light on illnesses that are obscure, difficult to cope with, and often not taken seriously.
Allen stated, “I hope it helps [people] see their illness in a different light, make it appear more manageable.”
2. Kirsty Latoya
Kirsty Latoya’s Emotion Series (2016-2018) depicts different forms of mental illness such as depression, stress/anxiety, and eating disorders through a series of digital drawings showcasing black women struggling with such illnesses, as a result of their communities’ strife. Many of Latoya’s drawings are relevant in our modern times, such as showing a young woman having a texting conversation that goes, “how are you?” to which she responds “I’m fine”, masking her true feelings and pain, as many of us do to avoid the uncomfortable confrontation.
We often put on a mask to disguise how we really feel, but Latoya’s art removes the façade and shows what we look like underneath fake smiles. Latoya’s works can be seen as relevant to many groups, races and classes of people struggling with an “invisible” illness that goes unseen.
3. Edward Honaker
Honaker is a photographer who documented his own depression and anxiety, in an effort to start a discussion about men who live with mental illness. While its known that women are more likely to experience depression at some point in their life, we often overlook men and their struggles with depression, which many of them face alone. And while more women attempt suicide, more men die by it.
Honaker said about his portrait series, “Mental health disorders are such a taboo topic. If you ever bring it up in conversation, people awkwardly get silent, or try to tell you why it’s not a real problem. When I was in the worst parts of depression, the most helpful thing anyone could have done was to just listen to me – not judging, not trying to find a solution, just listen. I’m hoping that these images will help open up conversation about mental health issues. “
4. Tsoku Maela
Abstract Peaces is a series by African American artist Tsoku Maela, who depicts the different stages of depression and anxiety. Because mental illness in black communities is even more misunderstood and ignored than in other communities, it often goes misdiagnosed leaving many black men and women to feel more lonely in trying to seek help.
Maela wanted to express the more positive sides of mental illness in his Abstract Peaces series, “depression isn’t all doom and gloom”, Maela wrote on his website, “it’s an opportunity to face oneself and this is a result of going to places you hate the most about yourself and finding beauty.”
5. Kim Noble
Noble’s art is as vastly different from each other as her multiple personalities are from themselves. Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), Noble has 20 identities that she lives with, 15 of which like to create visual art, in all different forms. Each of these identities has different names, ages and backgrounds. The painting seen here was done by Judy who is most like a reflection of Kim as a teenager when she suffered from bulimia.
6. John William Keedy
It’s Hardly Noticeable, a photo series by Keedy showcases first person perspective, what it likes to live with anxiety, one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting 18% of American adults. It looks at some things, that people without anxiety disorder, would not typically think about; it simply doesn’t occur to them. Those with anxiety disorder, however, often over-analyze even details that may seem trivial, but honestly they “drive us crazy”, in the simplest of terms.