All too often stories about mental health are illustrated with pictures like this:
But of course, people experiencing depression, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses often look exactly like somebody who isn’t, as we found when we gathered stories and pictures from times when people have been suffering these conditions:
1. “I remember how difficult it still was for me to get out of bed every morning.”
“In autumn 2013, I studied in England (my home university is in Naperville, Illinois). I’d been battling with depression and anxiety for almost two full years. This photo was taken about halfway through my time abroad, when my mom (on the right) came to visit me for a week. I was obviously SO excited for her to be there, but was also having some really difficult internal battles, was cutting myself, and was so embarrassed. I felt like nothing I was doing was helping me feel better.
“We took so many photos during her visit and had so much fun exploring and spending time together, but whenever I see these photos, I remember how difficult it still was for me to get out of bed every morning, even to enjoy one of the most beautiful countries in the world with my best friend.” – Anna Kopsky
2. “My life had fallen into a routine of harming myself.”
“My first two years of university were hard, both for me and those close to me. I was feeling very low, self-harming regularly and not eating. At this point I had told my parents about my depression, but I held back on telling anyone the scale of the damage I was causing myself.
“My life had fallen into a routine of harming myself, and then feeling better for a few days, before slowly sinking back down until I needed another “fix”. Medication helped to take the edge off how I was feeling, but it never really went away. Those closest to me had the hardest job of keeping me above water, but to the outsider looking in, I was just a normal guy who thought hiding under a table was a great way of getting a cheap laugh.” – Rehaan Ansari
3. “My family were great, but they didn’t know what I was going through.”
“In this picture it was 2012, I was 17, and after a long six months of being bullied through sixth form and suffering with depression, anxiety, and an attempted suicide, my mother thought it would be a nice idea for me to visit family in New York.
“Even though I had the best time seeing family I hadn’t seen in a very long time and exploring a new and amazing country, I was still depressed and suffering with incredibly low self-esteem.
“My family were great, but they didn’t know what I was going through, and I didn’t want to share it and burden them with my problems. I loved this time in America, but I can’t help but feel a pang of regret when I remember how it was almost wasted because of my illness.” – Jess Kwamin
4. “I would still wear a fake smile every day to try and hide the pain I was feeling.”
“I started experiencing depression when I was 14 – it was an incredibly dark time for me. It seemed like the only emotions I was capable of feeling were fear, anxiety, sadness, and despair. Nevertheless, I would still wear a fake smile every day to try to hide the pain I was feeling. I would force myself to leave the house every morning, drag myself to school – to everyone else I looked fine, normal, happy and healthy.
“I would go out with friends wearing long sleeves in summer to hide the scars I had,
and when people asked, I said I was cold and they believed it because I had a smile on my face. But I was ill at that time, I couldn’t see anything but darkness. A smile can hide the truth.” – Nikki Mattocks
5. “I’m most comfortable disappearing into a crowd full of strangers.”
“I had never struggled with depression in my life before I became pregnant with my daughter. Postpartum depression and anxiety hit my like a ton of bricks, and it took me years to find my footing again. Most people would describe me as easygoing and upbeat, but the reality is it takes a huge amount of effort for me to enter in to any kind of social setting. The more people I know, the worse my social anxiety is – I’m most comfortable disappearing into a crowd full of strangers.” – Morgan Shanahan
6. “I felt totally disengaged and trapped in a bubble of my own misery.”
“I was going through a low period around 2008, feeling lost, helpless, and utterly inadequate. I remember struggling to find something to wear for a night out with friends that didn’t make me feel completely ugly, and even though I still felt uncomfortable in this silver T-shirt, borrowed at the last minute, I hated the idea that I might miss out on a good night, or that my friends would like me less if I didn’t go.
“That evening I remember feeling floored by the a low nausea pulling me down, deep from the pit of my stomach. You wouldn’t know it from the pictures, but I felt totally disengaged, trapped in a bubble of my own misery, and was counting down the hours until I could go home for the whole time.” – Laura Silver
Today sees Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma programme run by Rethink Mental Illness and Mind, launch Get the Picture, a campaign aiming to encourage media outlets to stop using simplistic and stigmatising images of people clutching their heads to illustrate stories about mental illness. Visit Time to Change for more info and to see more pictures of what mental illness looks like, and share your own with the #GoodbyeHeadclutcher hashtag on Twitter.