Behind the Scenes Culture: Mental Illness

“Culture” is not confined to the outwards appearance of an individual. It is the way people think and act, their likes and dislikes. Every individual human has a culture thriving in their minds. Yet many people struggle with their mind, fighting an unseen predator as it lurks in the deepest, darkest parts of their consciousness. The “culture” of an individual not only includes their heritage or region, but their mental health and how it affects the way they perceive the world around them.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety affects “40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year” while major depressive disorder affects “more than 16.1 million American adults” (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). The American Psychiatric Association pinpointed the diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder as feelings of sadness or hopelessness, loss of interest, change in weight or appetite and activity, insomnia or increased sleeping, excess fatigue or lack of energy, feeling guilty, feeling worthless, attention difficulties, and thoughts of death or suicide. These symptoms would be present almost every day, last for at least two weeks, and cause problems in daily life (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

However, due to the stigma in the United States against mental illness, many are afraid to even tell their closest friends. While these people are incredibly tough for fighting back, they are also fantastic at hiding their problems and suffering alone. They will go untreated. And they will go on without critical help. Depending on the illness, the longer it goes unnoticed, the more fatal it becomes. In 2015 suicide was considered the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, in other words, about 44,193 people; more than twice as many deaths than homicides (National Institute of Mental Health). Talking to a psychiatrist is key to starting the healing process. Although, if insurance is not capable of covering that cost, the toll-free number for suicide prevention is 1–800–273–8255. They are available at all hours, every day of the week.

This photo series is meant to enlighten the public about the life of an individual with both anxiety and depression, and to release the stigma against getting help. Every photo will depict a moment in the individual’s day along with a caption to help explain emotions and ideas. The focal point will be a single pill bottle beginning with seven pills, demonstrating the process how medicine can quickly become the core of someone’s universe. Along the way, the photos will become darker and devoid of color to show the gradual, sometimes abrupt, changes in mental stability. All were shot in a single room to encompass the confinement of mental illness. Please be aware that this series will depict dark themes.

Many people find a way to separate their daily life with their internal struggle. The cabinet is open to represent taking a peek into the deepest parts of the mind. Makeup is present to show that even if someone’s mental state is failing them, they still fight on with a new face. To emphasize the division, the cabinet shelf acts as a vector between the physical and mental realities. Pill count: 7
While most days can be dreary, some days are just bright enough to inspire old memories. This photo was shot from the perspective of the person with depression. Their eyes are focused on the GameBoy, but their illness seems to loom ominously in the background, i.e. the pill bottle. Pill count: 6
Although the days go on, people are always carrying the fight. This shot references that moment of tension in class where the anxiety is suffocating, and one has to make sure they have their pills in the event of a panic attack. From a higher angle, it proves that while they still have the illness, they are overcoming it slowly but surely. Pill count: 5
Medicine is strong, and yet those anxiety pills are not strong enough to go outside. Just the thought of leaving the apartment is enough to induce a panic attack. The colors are more monotone to symbolize the rapid decay of the will to live. Even the pills have become more prominent in the foreground to show the increased reliability on the medicine. However, the distance between the person and the pills shows a form of reluctance. Pill count: 4
Those mornings are impossible. Impossible to eat, sleep, or sit up. All one can do is lay in bed and wonder how they got to this point. Darker around the edges of the photo, it accurately represents what life looks like at this stage in depression; lackluster and fading. The pills juxtaposed with the centered healthy breakfast is another example of how constant the medicine is in one’s life. Pill count: 3
Occasionally, people will cover their battle scars with anything, like tattoos. While many may see a pretty rose, others will know the internal struggle. The razor blade is resting on the leg, unused, to symbolize how the victim has overcome that part of their depression. Taken very close, it is meant to show how little anything else means to the person at that time. A bit of color is still there to show the person’s hope for a more colorful future. Pill count: 2
Sometimes it feels as though people are going through the motions, with vague memories of when they could feel anything. Framed and centered, the medicine is all that matters. The objects in the photo, mainly the shirt, show the exact mental stability of the person; dull, gray, and careless. Pill count: 1
Not everyone survives their fight. This photo’s purpose is to show how critical it is for people to get help. There are no more colors. There are no more pills. Taken from a Dutch angle, this photo shows one of many ends to a mental struggle, and the tension of this moment. After being found in this state, the friends and family will be in a state of shock, rushing this person to the hospital as fast as possible to save their life. The line of sight is meant to focus on the hand and medicine, with the baseboard guiding the eyes down to the lid and up to the rest of the unseen body. Pill count: 0

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Facts & Statistics. August 2017. 8 October 2017.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Depression. 30 March 2016. Article. 8 October 2017.

National Institute of Mental Health. 2015. Article. 8 October 2017.