Today marks the last day of Mental Health Week. I wanted to write something about the importance of mental health not only to me but to others who have experienced difficulties with it. To anyone who knows me they will know how strongly I feel about our relationship with mental health. I myself have many problems with it, except the thing that takes people by surprise is my openness about the topic.
Rather than entering the second year of University I had a year away to collect myself and repair. As mentioned before in my first blog post “Humble Beginnings“, I fell into depression and it consumed me as a person. When I was depressed I was not “Haydn”. During the time I spent away, I got a lot better and was able to return to Uni but it was much more of a struggle than before.
During a presentation in my last year of University I had to discuss my artwork and talk about its themes. My work was based around my personal perception of mental health and was mostly personal at the time. I remember not preparing any notes or structure for the presentation as I knew how strongly I felt about my work and its themes. Standing in front of a room of peers I explained the relationship I have with my own mind and how much of a struggle it can be sometimes. This struggle would inspire and drive me to create art and develop as an artist. At the time I created work with which I took digs at myself because I couldn’t cope with my own feelings. The art was raw and it showed. All it lacked was direction.
Once I’d come to terms with my depression, it became apparent that there were other issues I hadn’t yet dealt with underlying the original. I’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and as a consequence I have troubles with IBS. I’m no stranger to the difficulties of mental health and how they can hold down and cripple you. This could all be linked to my recent diagnosis of being on the Autistic spectrum, as Autistic individuals are often depressed and anxious. A majority of my friends and family all struggle with various problems related to their own mental well being.
Why is it important then, Haydn? Why do you feel so strongly about it? I didn’t talk about it. For the longest time I kept it to myself because I considered myself a weak person. Any signs of weakness in our society are never seen as something you can work on and repair, it’s just straight up a “problem”. In my opinion the best possible thing you can do to help your own mental state is to ignore this convention and be honest; let people know how you feel!
In the past year I have had many people admit their true feelings to me. Obviously I can’t go into details for their privacy, but having spoken to a variety of very different individuals it’s difficult not to see how mental health disorders are a widespread problem. People have no idea who to turn to or what to do. These sort of feelings are not talked about openly because as I mentioned before, you begin to think there is something very wrong with you. You feel like you are not a person but a problem.
When I have discussed the topic of depression with others they have often considered their difficulties a bigger issue for other people than themselves. They isolate themselves and dig themselves into a metaphorical hole away from everyone. This isn’t the same for all cases, but it’s a recurring theme I find goes hand in hand with depression. It relates back to being more open about feelings in general as the stigma is buried deep in society. Nobody would be awfully surprised to see mockery made of a man who came out as having anxiety troubles.
Going to a GP or doctor is always the first step anyone should take. There are many services available through your GP that can help with coping with metal health. Upon discussing the topic of receiving help, so many people had not even considered going to the GP for either themselves or someone they knew having difficulties. Personally, talking to my doctor was the first step to being able to talk to my family about things openly. On top of that, when I opened up to my friends, they ended up opening up to me which I think proves my point about communication being important.
When it comes to coping most people have an outlet. Mine is my artwork. I’ve often worked with the concept of mental health, but the concept didn’t develop until I began painting monsters. My anxiety monsters allowed me to create an image that portrayed what I wanted to say when I couldn’t find the words. They’re representations of not only my struggles but also those of the people around me. I use the term monster as that is how I depict the doubt and worries my brain spews out. It spews colourful gunk that grows and swells and becomes a monster. It can shrink and withdraw back when I feel my best, however the monsters are still there and when they are ready to wreak more havoc they expand and bulge back up to consume my mind.
When it comes to colour, I feel that dark and sad tones don’t describe what I feel. Many people describe being overwhelmed by their own thoughts when struggling with mental health. I agree with this statement, which is why my monsters are bright and visually striking. They’re a burst of colours that are filled with tones that mix and change. All the different colours affecting one another and developing into something different are like a collection of thoughts. The colour is powerful.
I have received responses from people regarding my paintings, telling me how they relate to the imagery and can see themselves in these monsters. While the feelings evoked tend to be different for each person, this lets me know I’m creating exactly what I strive to create. They are not just for me. They are for everybody who wakes up each morning and knows the biggest battle of that day will be with themselves, an embodiment of their feelings.
Mental health is important because it affects every aspect of our human life. The world around you will be perceived differently depending on how you feel. The world of those depressed will always be a scarier place. 1 in 4 people are having mental health difficulties every year in the UK which means even if you are not directly affected chances are you know somebody who is. It’s difficult to imagine the scale of those affected, but I have seen changes being made every day to bring those isolated back into society, allowing them to flourish. It is happening, even if it’s slow.
The changes being made are a push in the right direction but, as always, things could be better. Anyone can make a difference to help others on the road to recovery. All it takes is a bit of understanding and patience. I am grateful for all the time that people put into helping me to get better and I know that others could benefit from the same treatment. Mental health week shouldn’t just be a week to reflect on the problems that are out there, but a week highlighting the triumphs of the individuals who have been through it and have found their way.
During the past two weeks I have been working on some A4 Perspex paintings using a new technique including coloured acrylic paint to make a thicker layer of colour. This wasn’t as successful as I imagined it to be, although the white acrylic reacted positively with the ink and merged unlike the solid colours which repelled the ink away.
These paintings are based around the anxiety and stress I have had over this past month. A mixture of anxiety over starting a business and the stress of having problems with chipped and aching teeth. This combination of things has left me feeling pressured on a regular basis making it difficult to engage in social circles, but it has given me inspiration to create. The eight paintings are a spectrum of feelings I have experienced and I am interested in the results as they have a different feel to my previous paintings.
Let me know what you think of them and most of all let me know what feelings you are seeing in them. It always interests me to see others’ responses.