Describing Illness Through Mental Pictures
It seems our language is fairly ineffective when it comes to describing mental illness.
When we feel sad for a day or two, we’re depressed. A colleague who becomes terribly competitive when the manager is around must be schizophrenic, and we all know someone who’ll describe his ex-girlfriend as psychotic.
But when we use these words like this, they don’t illustrate the right picture of such an illness.
But some people can do it with a minimal use of words.
Mental health has drawn a lot of attention recently. Unfortunately the attention it has received isn’t great.
Recent violent events in the US have caused a lot of calls for mental health reform, yet a quick Google search of both presidential candidates leave you mostly with pages questioning Donald Trump’s mental health.
However, these calls focus on a group of extreme outliers, and draw attention away from the many people who suffer from any mental illness. Many of whom don’t have access to the right treatment, or are afraid of the stigma.
But many find some therapeutic value in art, and do an amazing job of relating their struggle.
The illustration directly above is part of Bobby Baker’s book Mental Illness and Me, an 11 year project of an illustrated diary where she did daily drawings of her life and experiences dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder.
The entry above mentions DBT, which is Dialectical Behavior Therapy and combines the more traditional Cognitive Behavior Therapy, with Mindfullness, which finds it’s origin in Buddhism.
Directly above that is work from David Barth, this picture drawn when he was 10 years old. This particular drawing is called “Vogels”, and was featured in the book Drawing Autism by Jill Mullen. David’s mother wrote an accompanying e-mail to Mullen, and said this about the drawing.
…it’s not hard to guess what’s keeping him busy right now. There are almost 400 birds on [this drawing] and he knows the names and Latin names of most of them.David's mother
One of the most common illnesses is depression. According to the WHO, about 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide, and it is the leading cause of disability. Yet still it carries a stigma, in part because it is so hard to fathom when you haven’t been afflicted by it.
Matthew Johnstone envisioned his depression as a black dog and wrote a book about it, which he illustrated as well. Eventually the book found it’s way online in the form of a video as well.
Due to the great illustrations, and honest insight given by Johnstone, the video has found it’s way into the offices of many mental health professionals as an educational tool.
Stacy LeFevre started out by drawing a creature to represent her Anxiety. Now she writes Strange but Beautiful, an autobiographical comic about her experiences with Anxiety, Depression and her struggle with medication.
Finally, there’s Toby Allen. An illustrator who suffers from anxiety, and it inspired him to draw these disorders as actual monsters. It’s been an ongoing project, and he is planning to release the collected monsters as a book.