How often do you really share what’s on your mind? This is an ongoing collaboration of inviting people whom I photograph to use their portraits to reveal their innermost thoughts. The result is a snapshot of our human struggle with mental well-being.

Jeffy

You have to find one way or another to express yourself. Like music or writing words, or drawing. Drawing is one way. Depends how your mind functions and which aspect is stronger. That’s what I learned after my surgery – creativeness.

I see myself as a colorful person and I have a future in front of me and also I want other people to know about it. I want to show that being labelled as disabled does not mean that I am not able to do things that everybody can do. I want to show that. I want to prove that.

The most important thing for me is health – can’t do without health. It’s definitely taken for granted that health is there. It’s not always the case.

Ita

Said ‘it’s only up to you’
And that’s the hardest pill to swallow.
You never get to choose
You live on what they sent you
And you know they’re gonna use
The things you love against you
I could learn to play the game
I could learn to run the hustle
If I only had the brains
The money or the muscle
– Extract from ‘Falling Awake’ by Gary Jules

Andrew

I’ve spent a lot of time sailing and being out in the water is quite a nice place to go out and realize how small and insignificant you are in the world.

There is the waves, as the additions to the face. There is the scales and there is the dragon at the top. One of the parts of me that I’m most confident about is my eyes. I like the whole stormy blue of stormy seas. It’s a bit of a nod to the acknowledged narcissistic tendencies, of which there are many.

The scales are the biggest representative symbol. It’s weighing up how much pain would you get from doing this thing versus how much you would get in the long run. It’s an uncomfortable set of scales to be holding and if I could drop them, I would.

I am not one for labels, as with mental issues, they are so unique to the individual it is difficult to have a name for a thing. Depression to one person means something else to another, so it is a ridiculous label. But I’ve had issues with that kind of stuff, with anger stuff, with… I am a bottler, I bottle things. I have violent thoughts quite a lot of the time, but I would never act on them. The way I have gone through life and as a result of childhood stuff, home life is never as simple as it sounds.

Most people react emotionally to stimuli and then think about it logically. I am the opposite. I logic things through how I feel about that based on it’s pros and cons, then I react to how I have deduced I feel about it.

I would be lying if I said I am a fundamentally happy person. I am a pessimist and I don’t like it.

Shamsara

After my husband died I had a mental breakdown. I had no children or family here.

There was a social service involved and they told me they would not be able to help me. I felt very angry with them. I got all my stuff into a living room and wanted to set the house of fire. One of my neighbors in the meantime knocked on my door and asked me what I am doing.

I live alone and I get scared. I feel a lot better than before though.

I want to go visit Bangladesh but I don’t know what I would do if I went back there permanently.

When I see ladies that are really stressed out, I tell them to pray to Allah. If you are stressed inside your house, get out and talk to somebody.

Anna-Marie

Some of the things I think are so strange and abnormal, it makes me quite self-loathing. Sometimes I project that onto other people – “they must think I am like this as well, and therefore they will behave in a certain way towards me”. But it never actually happens that way.

I felt a bit alien towards the drawing as I never really use red and green as far as describing myself. It made me think, why do I usually use pink and purple? Why do I think those describe me? Makes you wonder whether what you like describes you.

Everyone has mental health. If people thought about mental health as a spectrum, and realized that people can slide up and down, then they might be more understanding of people who are on one end. It might be different from where they are, but its not that different. We are all still people..

Holden

The snow has been on my mind. I’ve been having a nice time in the winter wonderland.

I am quite an ordinary person. I like doing ordinary things.

The egg symbolizes a ‘cracking egg’ – both food and every now and then you have a bit of a brain cracking egg moment. I just quite like what henry hoovers look like. The crown is just there cause I guess I am the best.

Bunmi

I actually don’t like looking at myself. I don’t think I am beautiful enough.

The experience of being in a hospital is not a good thing. there are so many doctors – they come and go, and I must have gone through about 30.

I think we should be more open-minded, more-free. If someone has a relapse you shouldn’t just label them as someone that is mad or something.

We are real people. We have feelings and emotions. Just because we are labeled with “mental health” does not mean that we are actually “mental”.

Augusto

Sometimes I just sit in my armchair and spend hours thinking about why things and people are the way they are.

I am extremely against this idea of art as a way of expressing what society, in most cases, produces in the individual. A person who suffers from psychological problems – understanding that we all have, without exception, some kind of psychological problem – at the maximum level, and who finds the chance to “get his mind out” through art – I find it terrible. It imagines that you have suffered a trauma (whatever it is) and makes a sculpture, a screen, to represent that suffering, that is, to externalize it? To have the suffering materialized? I find it difficult to put my suffering on a screen and hang on the wall, that’s all.

My biggest dream is to dream again.

Miles

Mental health is a big part of my life now, as I have psychosis. It’s like delusions and these kind of things. It’s kind of molded me into who I am, with drawing. It’s not something that I am really bothered about though.

Delusions, it would be more like paranoia. I have OCD because of it, so it’s like “I have to do this a number of time because something bad will happen. That has changed my life a lot. But other things, like hallucination, I have just learned to ignore.

Some days are worse than others. I have social anxiety, so sometimes I would avoid social situations where I know there will be a lot of people. If I go down the steps and I have to miss every even number of steps then I know it will be a bad day.

Psychosis has a lot of bad stigma. It’s an umbrella, so people with schizophrenia has psychosis but not everyone with psychosis has schizophrenia.

I was assigned female at birth, but I identify as a man. I knew when I was 11. I did not come out until I was like 15. As soon as you come out in your teens, people are like “you should have known sooner”. But if you come out as a child they claim “you don’t know yet”.

My mom still says she is grieving because her daughter died. Even now, I still like to do feminine things, like make up. So my parents see that as very confusing. When I came out, they did not believe me, so I had to dress more manly and do typically manly things as then they would accept it.

A lot of people are scared about asking pronouns, but all of the trans people that I know, including myself, would prefer you to ask ‘what are your pronouns’. I’d love to live in a world where that is second nature to ask.

“Let love In”, because I always try to remind myself that it is okay for people to like me. I wonder if someone is my friend because they pity me or whatever. The “Disphoria” is what I think about a lot, mainly because I am not on testosterone or have not had any surgery, so if I am shopping I always ask myself whether that will make me look feminine. The eye is for my psychosis and paranoia. Me and my friend always refer to ourselves as “Disasters”, as after an earthquake everyone tries to pick up the pieces and build themselves back up. That’s how I see myself. My mental health has caused a huge disaster and now I am trying to build myself back up to be a better person.

Natalie

With me having anxiety I have a lot of thoughts all at once, I suppose. what’s been on my mind for a long time is the fact that my life is slowly coming together a bit like a jigsaw piece.

I never forget where I came from, but I always look to the future. My partner, Peter, has given me the hope to do that.

A lot of people don’t really understand me, or outright don’t like me. I am not particularly bothered by it. When having mental issues or any other disability, it can be difficult to talk about yourself and explain who you are and what you are about in a way that neurotypical people might understand. I think the defining factor in what brings people together is listening and time. There is a mutual relationship between the two.

The sea turtle came during a spiritual journey and helped me get back on track with a lot of things, like my mental health. In ways that I don’t even think your typical psychology could help. It was a marriage between spirituality and psychology. The sea turtles saved my life.

Mike F

The taxi game was for 30 years. It kind of takes your life. Everyday is different – and anybody who says it`s not, is not a taxi driver.

I`ve had a few bad years, and it can only get up from there. I`ve reached the bottom. Today I have to go to the opticians around the corner to ask if they can stop sending letters since she has passed away. Every time I get mail for her, it brings it back.

All you are looking at is 4 walls. Within those 4 walls there are memories. What do you do? Pack it in a suitcase and forget about it? You can`t, you just have to carry on.

Only you can make the changes. No-one else is going to help you. Going to these counsellors and what have you, but when it comes down to it, only you can do it.

Nina

I met my husband, my husband Peter with the blue eyes. He couldn’t believe that I was so vivacious – I was living in New York at the time

I can’t stand places where everyone’s the same. I have never been afraid to go somewhere where I’ve never been before. I got that from my parents, I am a nomad at heart.

In Ukraine there’s a stigma, in Russia there’s a stigma. Although everybody drinks and flies off the handle. Do you think they have a grasp on mental health when they torture people and send them off to prison in Siberia? They cause suffering, suffering that is unbelievable. China is the same way and is a land of sorrow. I think Ukraine as well, for whatever reason.

I am proud to be a survivor, in more than one way. In mental health, and because I am a child of a survivor. Because we landed on very good shores in America, we survived and lived happily ever after.

Lara

I am thinking about my status in this country. I want to do something tangible.

It’s not your country, so you have to be friendly with people. You have to use your sense with people.

I like to help people. Everybody has challenges, and you have to think that tomorrow will be better than today. If I wake up in the morning, I pray and thank God for waking me up.

The father said to me he didn’t want a pregnancy… I had my daughter at 5 month pregnant, so I have challenges that I’ve been facing. My dream is for my daughter to be a better person. I want her to be something in life.

Jeff

The stripes on my forehead originate from a Maori tattoo design for warriors, and it shows the part of me that believes in kill or be killed. Purple to me is a vile colour, and I think it represents how much I dislike myself. Purple also happens to be my mother’s favorite color, and I don’t have a great relationship with her, so go figure. The blue and the tattoos on my body obviously reflects my love of tattoos but also sits in discord with the other colours in the picture, and I think it represents all the contradictions within me. The green tentacles add to how monstrous I feel I am, and the grotesque mouth shows how much damage I do by always saying the wrong things, most of the time on purpose.

I’m afraid of thinking about the future, because there’s so much uncertainty and it just makes me extremely anxious.

Shafa

My dad is a very big part of me. He always wanted to help vulnerable people, whether in Manchester or Bangladesh, that’s what I am doing. I am a community mental health worker.

It’s like over 8 months now to get a medical assessment and to see a psychiatric doctor. It’s really cruel, these people are really unwell and they need immediate help. And it’s just waiting and waiting, and they become so anxious. They even go in and out of A&E because they have a panic attack and things like that, but there is no quick way to see a psychiatric doctor. GP’s referring people to CBT therapy and self-groups, that’s again, 12 weeks waiting. When you have got statuary service and your first language is not English it makes it even more difficult for them to seek help themselves. When I started working everything was quite quick and things were easier. They come to me and say I am not well and I ask them why they did not get an appointment and they claim they know they won’t get one.

Especially our South Asian, Bangladeshi cultures, they think women should be multi-functional things that just get on with things. They don’t even recognize mental health. Some of the control that women have in their house, financial control, probably not go the education for the freedom to go earn that money. Freedom is a very bit thing in peoples mind and it’s all been controlled. The stigma amongst Asian people that women should always be resilient and get on with things, they don’t recognize she can be ill. If you break your leg people can see it, but if you’ve broken your mind or heart people can’t see it. People don’t recognize it.

When I lost my dad, I thought, I am not embarrassed to cry. I used to just suddenly cry when I saw someone who looked like my dad on the street. I am not embarrassed like I used to be. If you cry, just let it come out.

Jamun

It’s like a wave. The residual effects of a manic episode last and kind of gravitate into a neutral. But I’ve met people I really care about in that time, even though I thought I wouldn’t. I think depression does that – it makes you think you can’t meet anyone else or do anything new and leaves you feeling quite apprehensive.

I drew background layers and I drew a whole diorama, and then I just started drawing things for the sake of it.

Chaotically. Within reason, but still looked a bit strange. I think it reflects who I am. Towards the end it just gets chaotic. Just kind of dystopic. But happy somehow. Kind of weird, oil-rich universe. With loads of cars flying around. There is no plants. There are glints of light and a lot of stuff going on but at the same time if you look between the lines its quite bleak. There is stormy weather and fire coming out of chimneys.

The most important thing for me in life is feeling happy. And knowing that someone else is happy in my presence.

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