This is a subject many of you will not feel comfortable reading, and for that purpose that is why I started this project. I have suffered with mental illness since I was 15 years old and it has been present in my life with my Mum suffering with it for as long as I can remember. Up until maybe a year ago, I was terrified to tell people and speak about it due to the huge stigma around mental health and people's fear of the unknown. I've been on medication for three years now, and I've had various counselling sessions with a variety of different approaches but personally they did not work for me. I am not discouraging anyone who may be considering getting help as it has worked for many people, it just was not the right direction for me. For me, the light at the end of the tunnel appear when I ended up having a panic attack in a club when I could not find my friends. I then told them about my mental illness, and they were so supportive. Since being able to talk about it, and not have this fear surrounding the fact I suffer with a mental illness, I could admit to myself that something was wrong even though I had been medicating it for years previous. I now still suffer with depression and anxiety but I have learnt to control it and realise when I'm starting to go down that constant downward spiral and climb back up out of it. Two years ago, I would be having great difficulty writing this and I would be in tears if I managed to, whereas now the only difficulty I have is making it sound right as words are not my strong point. I am more of an actions person. Why am I telling you this, you maybe thinking. Well, for my last ever project at University - doing a BA Honours in Photography - I wanted to do something close to my heart that I felt passionate about and to have a good concept (as my tutor always insisted on!); they are not usually my strong point as I do so much commercial work and I also like to concentrate on the technical side, with lighting etc. Mental illness as I said earlier has always been part of my life, along with many others lives, but like the majority of people the stigma around it creates a shadow over it and stops people being able to talk about it. Which to me, I cannot get my head around as statistics say that 1 in 4 people suffer with mental illness. Those numbers are so small, to the point everyone will at least know someone who is suffering - whether they know it or not, so why is this such a scary subject? In my project I wanted to get across the point that many people suffer in silence, as 'Silent Soldiers' battling through every climb out of bed, every step and every day to make it to the next. If you think this sounds pathetic, then I suggest you stop reading as I will be wasting your time. It is not pathetic, and mental illness is serious. If you suffer with mental illness and someone tells you to stop being stupid, please ignore them, you deserve better and more understanding friends. You are not being stupid, never think you are.
The concept behind my project was to portray the positives of mental illness, people's brave faces and the fact these people still smile. When you first see the set of images, you will see a set of portraits that look like a set of 'normal' (what ever that is) happy people, a standard portrait. But once you read the supporting statement, you come to the realisation that they suffer with mental health issues. My point I want to put across I suppose is don't judge a book by its cover. You are not to know if someone suffers with mental illness, and if they chose to tell you they are suffering you should respect that and be honoured that they have put trust in you to spill these fragile facts about their life.
Here are a few photographs from my project:
Hopefully from these photographs you only see portraits, you may question why they have been taken but the concept behind them will be unclear (apart from the fact I've already told you what my project is about, pretend ha!) and mental illness is probably the last thing you would think of when you look at these photographs, including a self-portrait. When this project was in my end of year show, there was audio to accompany each subject and you had headphones to listen to them which made the whole viewing experience so personal as though you was getting to know each individual. Unfortunately this effect is lost over a computer screen and text, but I'm still hoping you can connect with each subject, not judge them because of their mental illness and to grasp the concept behind the project to not fear people with this issue and to feel comfortable to talk about it. Of course this is not something that is going to happen over night, but if you feel a little intimidated by any mental health issues just remember that we are people too and it should not be something to fear. If you feel this way I would suggest maybe talking to people about it, sufferers or even just friends as you will probably find out that they either know something, are suffering or are maybe in the same boat of not understanding. Now, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with not understanding. It is very difficult to understand the situation if you have never suffered from any mental illness as it may not seem like a big deal to you as to why one of us is struggling. But you have to remember even your problems to you may seem huge, but they may not seem that way to others. You cannot rate some bodies problems. Yes there maybe wars going on, homeless people and so many bigger world issues in the world but your problems are important too, along with other people's, no matter how little or niggly they are. (Please note, I am not saying war, homeless people or huge world problems are not important or that they should be dismissed!)
Now to view the project. Here are the pages I created for a zine to accompany my exhibition as unfortunately being the poor student I was I could not afford to print every single photograph (sob!). Each subject has their story next to them for you to read, some more personal than others and some a lot more upsetting. But please take the positive side of this project. What these people have done, to come out to everyone and explain their mental illness is so brave and I have the highest amount of respect for them. If it was not for these people I probably would not be in the better state I am now as this project showed me you can still be brave with this illness, and you can fight it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and that black cloud that hangs over your head constantly just finally clear. So thanks guys! Even if this project helps one other person realise this and maybe shows people to not fear the unknown about mental illness, then slowly the stigma around it may fade one day.
To view my zine please click here: Silent Soldier Zine 2014
There was also a video created by my University about my project while it was in the making, it has a little explanation by me and a bit of 'behind the scenes. I look absolutely hideous and so fat - I have recently lost weight, so please do not think I look like that anymore as I can't believe I ever did!
[vimeo 100206179 w=500 h=281]
Recently mental illness has been in the news, due to the passing of the great Robin Williams. Now even I was surprised to find out he suffered with mental illness, at first I thought how could someone so funny and so cheerful suffer with it. This just showed me that even I can sometimes struggle to see that anyone can suffer from it. I hope that mental illness will be brought to the surface and not hidden away. That employers will not discriminate against it, and maybe try to understand and even help. I want people to feel they can talk about it and for people not to be scared or just say 'its all in your head', 'everyone feels like that sometimes' or just a simple 'get over yourself'. Hopefully we can take steps forward, and start to create a completely different vibe around mental illness. I wouldn't say to beat it, as I think no matter what people will suffer from it but if the public have more of an understanding then maybe the 'silent soldiers' do not have to be silent no more and can be supported through their journey to recovery.