Putting the Men back in Mental Health
15-20 fellas, 1 camera and a bright and sunny day. I stumbled upon on a group of guys standing awkwardly outside the basement office in London. I went over and introduced myself to everyone and thanked them for taking part in my portrait series. All really lovely guys !
The main aim of the project was to shoot a group of guys who would be seen as ‘just your average young male adult’ in society, however a handful of the participants had been diagnosed with mental health disorders. I wanted to incorporate streetwear into my project and asked each fella to wear the colour blue, which represents the mental health charities in the UK. I wanted the project to show that anyone can suffer with a mental health illness and mental health does not have an image. Anyone from any background can struggle with their mental health.
I had been putting off my mental health for years until I lost interest in my three favourite things in life: Photography, my friends and food. I made the trip to the GP who had diagnosed me with severe anxiety. I just call it being overly-cautious but the GP begged to differ. I laughed and said it’s amazing what a new job and a break up can do to your mind .She jokingly told me to go on holiday and thus I booked flights for Morocco and Barcelona. This is where I fell back in love with taking pictures.
After I got back from Morocco, I just wanted to focus my work on mental health so I decided to organise a project that I personally found to be intriguing for myself but also the public. I want people to look at the portraits and find it difficult to differentiate between those who had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder and those who had not.
The weather in London was brighter than my future and I had 3 great rolls of portra to shoot of the guys. I was armed with my Leica, optimism and a cheesy grin. We spent the whole afternoon chatting, shooting portraits and having a chuckle. I learnt more and more about everyone and I was amazed how open the guys became. Everyone was looking very trendy as my mother would say. One of the guys travelled all the way from Bath to London for the project. I was absolutely flabbergasted.
After spending a couple of hours shooting we decided to head back to the office and have a discussion about men’s mental health. We discussed why it’s important to chat with our friends, why we struggle to do so and how we would react if one of our friends confided in us about their problems. The last question made us all think. It’s difficult for us fellas to really know how to react to a similar situation. It’s difficult. If I couldn’t relate I’d just think, “alright mate, just have a beer and it’ll pass” and try and move on which is probably the worst thing to do. Now I just think “Spill the beans and tell me everything that’s bothering you”. These chats can lift a humungous amount of weight of anyone’s shoulder.
I was taken back in that moment as some of the guys had become so open about their mental health experiences. From a group of guys that struggled to speak to each other at the start of the day to actually being very open I found amazing. In a way, I want to show that speaking about your mental health with your friends and family is great. You wouldn’t believe how fantastic I felt after opening up to my friends and family about my worries and personal problems.
I remember looking at statistics and discovered that depression was one of the biggest killers in men. Also 76% of suicides are male which really shocked me. It made me question the statisitcs and why us fellas struggle to seek help when it comes to our mental health. If we think we have broken our arm, we will go to the doctors but if we think we have a problem in our brain, we find it hard to go to the GP. That baffles me but we should normalise speaking about our problems with our friends.
I want to thank everyone who has participated in the project. People traveled from all parts of the UK and I found that incredible. I have been receiving emails and the old insta DMs with people saying that the project really helped them to seek help for their mental health. I would also like to thank the basement for helping me organise the project.
Great charities to check out:
These are fantastic charities who are available to call at any time.
Words and Photography by Louis Bever