World Suicide Prevention Day: Art as a new visual language for mental health in India

Marking World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, Paint Your Blues campaign hopes to create a repository of pertinent imagery around self care and therapy

Updated - September 10, 2020 07:02 pm IST

Published - September 10, 2020 07:30 am IST

Artwork by Manan Oberoi

Artwork by Manan Oberoi

A hand reaching out for help. A visibly sad woman hugging her knees close. A man with his face buried in his hands. Stock pictures of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are becoming increasingly predictable. In the past 10 years, our understanding and awareness of mental health has grown by leaps. Why then, must we use the same static images while talking about it?

As we mark World Suicide Prevention Day today, Suicide Prevention India Foundation (SPIF) is drawing its Paint Your Blues Campaign to a close. The graphic poster campaign invited artists and designers around the globe to send in their visual representation of key aspects of mental health: from introspection and self care to peer support and therapy.

Similar themes, similar messages in a variety of styles. Artist Marva Ramla Kader visualises going to the therapist as crossing a maze, with bizarre social barriers blocking the route. Art by Sanjana Akat and Manan Oberoi, on the other hand, focus only on imagery, hoping to convey the confusion and growth in the journey of mental health recovery without any words.

Artwork by Sanjana Akat

Artwork by Sanjana Akat

Each artwork is posted on the Instagram page @pybs01, where, until August 25, people could vote for (or ‘like’) their favourite posters. The winners, three selected by a curation panel and three selected through community voting, will receive ₹10,000 each. Their artwork will be made available for non-commercial use as an open source repository under Creative Commons.

Themes that resonate

“During March, when the lockdown had just begun, we were discussing how it would affect the mental well-being of the society in the long term,” says Anand Nair, Paint Your Blues project lead. Anand is a designer and has been working with SPIF for quite some time now, in connection with awareness initiatives around natural disasters and the COVID-19 outbreak. In most instances, he notes, mental health has been one of the least acknowledged areas of focus by governing bodies. “Around this time, we felt the resources available to create good awareness material lacked a certain human touch, visually, and felt we could reach out to the creative community for help,” says Anand.

The campaign began in May to coincide with the International Month for Mental Health, and by August, they had received over 400 entries, of which 317 were shortlisted. “The theme of self-care and peer support seemed to resonate the most with the artists,” says Yasmin Paul, lead-outreach, SPIF. “I believe this could be due to the fact that most people tend to make use of their existing resources and support systems before they consider accessing professional help.”

While a lot of the art on the theme of self-care is poetic, some like Radhey Kaushik have gone the more literal — and humourous — route. Her take features Dwight Schrute from TV show The Office and a modified rendition of his iconic line: “Mental health is not a joke, Jim. Millions of families are affected every year.”

One of the conditions of the campaign was that any text had to be in English. “The primary objective has been to create a repository for universally reusable visual assets,” says Anand, explaining why native languages were not allowed. “The fact that all creatives are attributed to the Creative Common license allows for adaptations and remixes anyway,” he adds.

Some artists, reveals SPIF lead-outreach Yasmin Paul, are also willing to share their artwork with nonprofits and mental health professionals personally, and are even ready to take up pro-bono work.

Ankur Chaudhary, who has submitted eight posters for the campaign says, “I have been creating awareness for mental health through my art since last year.” His work combines visually poetic artwork with words — a marriage he believes can work like a magic potion for abating mental health issues. “I had anxiety issues for two years, but my art and poetry helped me a lot with that. For me, it was like therapy.”

The winners will be announced on September 13, visit @pybs01 on Instagram.

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