How often do you share what’s really on your mind? Portraits of the Mind is an ongoing collaboration 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.
"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." - Jeffy
"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 chosen by Ita from ‘Falling Awake’ by Gary Jules
"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." - Andrew
"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." - Shamsara
"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." - Anna-Marie
"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'." - Bunmi
"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." - Augusto
"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." - Miles
"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." - Mike
"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." - Nina
"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." - Jeff
"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." - Shafa
"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." - Jamun
"I’ve looked after myself since I was 9 years old. When I say that, I didn’t really, but people behind me encouraged me to be independent. So I’ve always had to make my own decisions. So I said to my daughter, “the car is mine, I can do what I want with it”.
He knew, and he said “you’ve got Parkinson’s disease”. It was a relief to know, because when you put a name to it, it makes sense.
I am scared about the future. There is not much of it. 82 – I didn’t think I’d live this long. Thoughts my brothers would have killed me by now! There is more memories behind which are excellent. When I go to bed at night, I sleep solid for hours and I sometimes have some lovely dreams despite the drugs I am on. Might be the drugs that are causing them! I am mad if I wake up at the wrong time.
I’ll just go sit on a mountain in Tibet. Just watching the sunset and the sunrise. The people in Tibet usually look after the elderly." - Maureen
"Aspiring broadcaster, musician, media person. Hopefully in some way or other making some sort of difference to people that I identify with, mainly one or two minorities that I belong to.
I had a difficult time at school. I left at the age of 14 where I was home schooled until college. The main reason for struggling was various mental health issues in the past, mainly depression and anxiety. Earlier on in my life it would have been social and communication issues. I guess I’ve gotten over it through broadcasting really.
I guess I don’t feel as though I am performing as well as I should in what I am doing. Personally I feel quite isolated and lonely, because I just don’t really identify with many people with my age group. Sometimes I might go for a night out, but I don’t do it religiously like these people my age do. I guess I am just a lonely soul, but there we go.
There is a tiny little umbrella above my head and a big rainstorm that completely dwarfs the umbrellas size, which I think is very much apt for my situation in general. I am quite a rational thinker, but thought it was quite ironic to spell ‘rationale’ wrong intentionally. The white stuff around the musical instrument is white noise. In my line of work, mainly, I have to deal with a lot of white noise. I’ve noticed that if there is a group around your subject interest, invariably there ends up being some kind of internal conflict – to me that’s all the white noise. The brown stuff on the bottom is where my worst thoughts usually are.
At two points in the last 3 years I have an existential crisis where I was just worried about the whole big picture of the world and the universe. The little pint areas relate to my mismanaged and hopeless romanticism which is going on at the moment. The yellow wall is my defense area, if people are rude about me I am usually mentally strong enough to block it off. But sometimes the wall can drop away a little bit, where somedays I can get triggered into depression by almost anything actually. The blocks at the bottom resemble all of the workload I have at the moment, brick by brick and it’s completely disorganized to the point where a task on my to-do list is to write a to-do list. The number 1 represents the position Id like to be in my field, and the number 10 is how I usually feel.
Hardly anyone in my project knows about my sexuality, but in doing that you sort of need to tell a white lie when speaking about girls. I want to get a dialogue going, because people in this country are too inwards. I don’t think people talk about many issues. My documentary will cover mental health, sexuality, lack of opportunities in the world in general." - Nathan
"When I was 18, I visited Morocco. I became lost in a world within Islam that encourages the sight and communication with spirits. The fairies of my adulthood. As I delved deeper into the knowledge that surrounds these beings that exist on the fringes of our own existence, I found other people, like me, in this community, had seen, experienced, and believed in them. The un-truth of the matter solidified and became a reality.
I was met in the UK with the cold, harsh and abrasive sting of Western enlightenment rationalization, the doctrine of my parents and other atheists that states “all we touch and all we see is all that life can ever be”. But what of those of us who could access more than the visible, tangible reality? Who is to say that we are mentally ill?
If you have ever loved, been loved, felt fear, felt joy, felt that you were meant to meet another person, or felt a sunset that fills your soul with the essence of what is means to be alive, then you know that these are powerful emotions, ones that make us feel alive and a part of the universe." - Georgia
"My portrait is about love, about women, relationships. It’s a very erotic piece.
It represents a woman’s vagina, and sex, and fluids flying everywhere. There is a shape of two people kissing with tongues. There is the music in there as well. For me that’s my personality – music and love.
I am lucky to still be alive, basically. Other people who have gotten an illness have perished" - Kingsley
Shamans revere schizophrenics because they can bridge both worlds
It helps us reach the depths of emotions in HD as the tangible unfurls
Most of us have an overblown third eye and a underdeveloped root
Happier when even erratic patterns are grounded making it compute
To view this illusion as a lesson bound dream, everything is in balance
An omnipresent scaling of everything and nothingness, knowing joyance
We’re the entire ocean in one drop, jungle of mirrors reflecting your own self
Unconditional love in light and dark, selfish ego accomplishments not wealth
Extract from “Doma’s piece” – by Matt
"From an early age I wanted to be someone else. I guess I struggled being me. I became untrue to myself.
Looking at the portrait put me into touch with how I really look. I feel like I have woken up and I am suddenly 48.
There is something about women that is very empowering and I am glad that I am a woman. My drinking and drug taking took me to a place where it was mainly men.
It’s like layers to an onion. I feel more ashamed to have depression than saying I am an addict. I can deal with people thinking alcoholics have no will power. But depression is so not understood. It’s not like you feel a bit down. It’s a dark hole. People just think you are putting on or trying to get out of something. All I can hear in my head is “pull yourself together”.
It’s all fear based. When you don’t understand something, you fear it. That’s what causes prejudice. I’d say hang out with someone before you start judging." - Clair
"I am quite a bright, colorful person. I try to be enthusiastic and funny. I don’t know if I am actually funny, but I do try.
I’m quite an expressive person, not very neat, not much of a perfectionist. It’s quite messy and scribble. But I know that in the privacy of my own brain there is a lot more going on. I am quite private with my emotions, that’s why there is a big, ugly circle in the middle of my brain. There is a lot of stuff going on in there that people don’t know about which I wanted to represent.
It’s my own struggle and something I have always dealt with, but it also forms a lot of my outward personality. So there is a darkness, but it helps me to be more colorful and cheerful.
I’ve always pulled through on my own, or other people have helped me without knowing that they did. I don’t see the need to burden others with it if I don’t have to." - Esther
"I can see myself in her, that’s why I knew she was going to screw up university. When you start seeing your own mistakes in your children you get a bit worried. I think there is too much pressure on people that they have to go, when it’s not for everybody anyway.
They say that people with Bipolar are more creative, but I think a lot of people pretend they are because it sounds cool or something. If I had a choice, I would not have it. I don’t see it as the best thing that has ever happened to me.
It’s one of those things you have to come to terms with. I found out as much as I could about it, which meant I could control it better. With the artwork and the music it kind of suits my personality. Being a bit up and down mood wise means I don’t really suit a 9-5 job anyways. I run all the time which gets rid of all excess energy.
I was doing illustration and literature simultaneously at university, and it was like all the work was keeping me going. The way it works is things start whizzing around your head very fast, you start getting lots of ideas and making connections. It’s great when there is a peak to it, but not if it goes further and you are making connection when there is no connection there.
You see on telly people saying “don’t come off medication it’s the worst thing you can do”, but I have more of less come off it. I just have some that I take when, and if, I need it.
I like facebook because I empty out my head. Most of the time I am talking to myself, but on facebook I actually get answers to my thoughts." - Michael
"I had depression for a few years before. It’s not something that I expected, as it suddenly hit me. One day I just started to feel very tired and wanted to stay in bed for the whole day. And then it lasted for like 2 years. Most people take mental health for granted. Only them you get sick or some life events hit you then you will really what it means.
When I am depressed I don’t even draw. I lost all interest to do things. In total it took me about 5 years to come out of it.
I tried to put a mask in front of my face, but I did not want anything realistic. I am a receptionist and I tent to get a lot of sales calls, like 5 or 6 each day. Even though I am annoyed at them, I need to pretend to be nice and wearing a mask.
I stayed in the dark for so long, that when I come out of it I try to be colorful. I never know when the depression will come back to hit me." - Hoisun
"I like blue. Blue for me is a color that’s is the most beautiful color. It’s quite sad, but it’s a beautiful sadness. Like the sea and the sky, the two things that you can’t see the end of. They are so vast.
I am everything that has been given to me. I am molded out of my circumstances. Things don’t really belong to me. My brain does not belong to me, my body does not belong to me. The snow falling outside is not mine to feel, it is the skies.
I’ve realized I am quite a conflicting person, which I tried to reflect with the black and white in the drawing. It’s like there are two very different people within me, but I am as much one as I am the other. One part of me wanting to be free and detached and to not exist really; to be invisible in the world and free from responsibility, to travel and disappear. The other half wants stability with relationships and future.
I think I put too much pressure on myself, I don’t think it’s that deep." - Jasmine