In the fourth installment of our Best of Tumblr series, we’re looking at artworks that address the subject of mental illness. The artist community on Tumblr has time and again shown its sensitivity to these depictions, many of them approaching it from personal experience, or by listening carefully to those who live with depression, anxiety, personality disorders, eating disorders, body dysmorphia disorder, and the like.
We tend to minimize the seriousness of these illnesses when we fling around remarks like, “I’m so OCD, I just arranged my books,” or “eat more, you look anorexic.” Moreover, we used the word “crazy” to de-legitimize people when we don’t agree with their ideas, when we think they have no right to hold a place in “sane” and “respectable” society.
Ableism – the systematic and systemic way in which we marginalize people who function differently from the imagined ‘mainstream’ – is alive and well, but it’s not something we ought to condone. The following tumblr artists are challenging ableism by starting a conversation about mental illness, by saying that it exists.
Through this awareness poster, 20 year old Canadian artist Rhyan addresses the way people are reduced to their mental illnesses. Often, we fixate so much on a person’s disorders that we – wittingly or unwittingly – make those disorders their defining characteristic, when they are in fact so much more than that!
Mood disorders can make even the smallest tasks seem insurmountable. The anonymous physics and French student, who goes simply by the Tolkein inspired name ‘gil-estel,’ depicts in greyscale panels, with increasing somberness, what it feels like for many living with a mental illness.
Toby Allen’s love for fairy tales and mythology is evident in the ‘Real Monsters‘ series, where mental illnesses are imagined as actual monsters. Narratives are built around each ‘character,’ and what effects they have on people. Allen’s art project, which defines and realizes a condition which many people still suggest can be cured with ‘a positive attitude.’ The point being made here is that depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorders and such are real forces to contend with.
This self-proclaimed ‘hamster king’, also known as Muffin E. Goodness, is a British artist. Prior to this comic, they also did one titled ‘promises,’ about how it can be difficult to keep the promises you make when your mental illness gets in the way of delivering what you intended to, but this in no way indicates a lack of affection or even an inability to care deeply.
Sylvie Reuter’s colourful panels slowly devolve into black as she depicts the way mental health issues can become all-consuming for a person living with them. This powerful comic depicts a mental disorder as an ever-present and ever-growing entity, much like a wound that not tended to. And after all, what is one to expect when most people fail to treat disorders like any other medical emergency?
This anonymous tumblr artist, who is recovering from mental illness, is popular for their comics about struggling with not just mental health, but also the stigma surrounding mental health. This particular comic deals with that stigma, and displays of neurotypical privilege when people refuse to acknowledge mental illness as a genuine ailment and pass dismissive comments such as these.
Ali Marko is a Colorado-based graphic artist who works for a mental health non-profit, and as part of her activism surrounding mental health awareness, created this tumblr blog cum art project called ‘We Speak’, where she brought together the experiences of ten different women suffering from various mental health conditions. Not just limited to these ten women, she also invites other bloggers to share their experiences. This is truly some groundbreaking achievement in breaking the various stigmas and stereotypes associated with mental health patients.
The artist behind this piece is self-described as “Atheist, anti war, anti capitalist, anti gun.” As the caption says, it’s a tribute to the artist’s sister who lived with schizophrenia. Even though we’ve had plenty of time to alter attached evolve perceptions about it (schizophrenia was first talked about in 1910), this particular illness is perhaps the most misunderstood of the lot. The stigma against talking about mental illness often means individuals don’t get the treatment and support they require, which can even be fatal.
On that note, we must mention Ohio based queer bisexual ‘comicker’ K. Copeland, whose longish piece, ‘I am diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia,’ which is well worth the read . These and other art works are crucial to our understanding of the experience of mental issues, and also the ways in which societies, healthcare systems, and other institutions can respond to them. In fact, Tumblr as a platform already has some mechanisms in place! The website offers this message to a user who searches for “eating disorder”:
It does the same thing for all other related searches, and the message alters slightly to provide helplines and information pertaining to “depression,” “self harm,” and more. How’s that for being involved?
To read our previous posts in this series, click here.