Mental Health portrayed through Art
Tomorrow - Monday, September 10th - is Suicide Prevention Day. My day job is working as the Suicide Prevention Co-ordinator for Perth and Kinross, part of my overall duties as a Mental Health Planning and Commissioning Officer. So today, as part of this blog post, I wanted to draw attention to some amazing creative resources and artwork available on the topic mental health.
First up are the two fantastic comic books: 'I had a Black Dog' by Matthew Johnstone, which describes his experience of living with depression; and more recently, 'Living with a Black Dog', which he wrote in collaboration with his wife, offering the perspective of someone caring for a person with depression. If you have never experienced depression, these books give an insight into living with this illness. The metaphor of 'a black dog' is something which makes it easier for people to relate to how it must be to have depression, or to live with someone who has it. It also has a very positive recovery message, with lots of helpful advice and coping strategies. These are books which I have read many times over - as well as watching the excellent film versions. When delivering Scotland's Mental Health First Aid courses, I recommend them to everyone there. Feedback I have had from people living with depression on reading these books has ranged from - "I burst into tears because I felt like someone finally understood" to "It's a helpful way to think about my illness - sometimes my illness makes a reappearance - the black dog turns up".
Secondly, I would like to recommend another comic book, Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Broscht. It describes "Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanism, Mayhem and Other Things that happened". This includes her family life, her relationship with her dogs, and being chased by a goose. But it also describes her experience of depression, in a way which is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. The illustrations are simple but laugh out loud funny, and somehow neatly sum up the desperate but ludicrous situations she finds herself in. She never dismisses the severity of what it is like to experience depression - but nonetheless, is able to perceive the black humour of how it is impacting her life.
Finally, I would like to highlight some books I've read over the years, which I think all bring a different perspective on what it is like to live with mental health issues. Recently, I read Lost Connections by Johann Hari. This is a fascinating book which provides an alternative approach as to why people suffer depression and anxiety, and how the solution may not be medication, but changes to the way we lead our lives, both at an individual and a society level. Matt Haig has written Reasons to Stay Alive, a personal account of his feelings of suicide, brought on by acute anxiety and depression. This best-selling well-received book is honest and humorous, and ultimately uplifting. Finally, for anyone who is tempted to dismiss people who express suicidal feelings as 'attention seeking', I recommend Darkness Visible by William Styron. This raw, painful book describes his battle with mental illness and his almost minute-by-minute struggle with suicidal feelings - a real insight into how challenging it is to combat mental illness - yet he wins through.
For those of you who live in Perth and Kinross - between Monday 10th to Friday 14th September, my colleagues have organised a brilliant programme of talks, films and activities free to everyone. To everyone - talking about suicide openly saves lives. These books can open up that conversation.