Break the mold on mental illness


From: Joy Davis Ripley

Are you one of the millions of Americans suffering from mental illness? Or are you someone who loves a sufferer of mental illness?

Many people who experience mental illness feel lonely and isolated. It can be difficult for them to find the words to describe to their family and friends — and even themselves — how mental illness impacts them. Because of the stigma still surrounding mental illness, many people feel anxiety, shame, and fear.

Those who love someone with mental illness sometimes find themselves in a similar position, unable to describe or convey their experiences. They may not know another person in their position.

I hope to bypass this traditional problem of talking about mental illness by literally and symbolically presenting its impact on the lives of people. I’m starting a community-wide project that I hope will encourage people to talk more openly and freely about mental illness, and I will have an exhibition of the project in early 2020 at Public Launch, formerly known as The Outpost (a gallery on Third Street).

I’m looking for volunteers who want to talk about their experiences with mental illness, and whom I will photograph in a setting that they feel corresponds somehow to an aspect of their journey with mental illness.

If you’d be willing to share your thoughts about your experience with mental illness, and to do so in a safe environment where your words and experiences will be treated with respect, I invite you to participate in this community project.

My project, funded by an emerging artist SEMAC grant, is titled “Visible/Invisible: Life with Mental Illness.” My interest in this topic is deeply personal: I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, and PTSD for years.

I didn’t choose to experience mental illness, but I’m choosing to try to change the narrative around it. Now that we’re in Mental Health Awareness Month, this is the perfect time to talk about how stigmatized mental illness still is, and what we can do to create a constructive, community-wide conversation around mental health.

Research suggests that the majority of the people you know will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. We’re in the middle of an epidemic, and many of us don’t realize it, since it’s a largely invisible epidemic.

If you contact me to participate in this collaborative community project, I will send you questions asking about your experiences with mental health. You will not be asked to share more than you are comfortable sharing. Together, we will decide on a setting that speaks to you about your experience of living with mental illness.

Perhaps you feel your depression can be best expressed by your portrait being taken in a wintry, barren field. Or perhaps you’ve found that your anxiety lessens when you knit, or when you make chairs in your workshop, and you’d like your portrait taken while knitting or wood-working.

For me, an old quarry I discovered one afternoon on a meandering drive was the perfect setting to express what was inside of me. I had struggled with overwhelming PTSD since a sexual assault that occurred while I was pregnant with my daughter. The sheer scale of the walls towering over me in that stark, desolate landscape spoke to how lost I felt inside the hellish inner landscape that is PTSD.

We can’t escape life without battles and scars. For some of us, the battles in our minds threaten to destroy the very things we’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Let’s work together to challenge, and change, the stigmatizing and prevalent narrative surrounding mental illness. Let’s collaborate and find a physical environment that corresponds to your inner landscape. Let’s do these things because mental illness doesn’t just impact the individual suffering: it affects our overlapping networks of friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues.

If you have questions or are interested in participating, please contact me at Participation in this project with partial or full anonymity is possible, and everyone who participates will receive a $20 stipend.


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