When she was growing up, Pranita Kocharekar thought anxiety was a part of her personality. However, over time, it grew severe to the extent that she couldn’t even bring herself to receive client calls at work. What made it worse were the inane pieces of advice. Some people asked her to sleep it off while others suggested she stop overreacting. Tired, Kocharekar, a Mumbai-based illustrator, researched her symptoms and realised that she was suffering from anxiety disorder and sought help. More comfortable with visuals than words, she began to channel it through art. The 24-year-old came up with #AcknowledgeAnxiety, a series of illustrations that encapsulates what a person with anxiety goes through. “The art was introspective,” says Kocharekar about the series. The images were shared on around 30 platforms, from magazines in the UK, to blog posts, and newspapers in India. One of her illustrations is titled When you hear rustling at night, you make up scenes of being stabbed to death, and shows a terrified girl’s face from under the covers. Another is captioned You check for your phone before sitting in the cab, while in the cab, and after getting out of the cab — twice, and has a girl frantically searching her bag inside a taxi.
Bangalore-based Sonaksha Iyengar also turned to art to deal with her depression and anxiety. Her recent series, “The A to Z of Mental Health”, published digitally, means to educate people about the different kinds of mental disorders. “People often resist talking about mental illness,” says Iyengar, 22. “My illustrations show what people with mental disorders go through,” she adds. Iyengar spent hours researching how different mental disorders such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), eating disorders, and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), manifested. The result is an insightful collection. One of her illustrations, Bipolar disease is not the same as a temper tantrum, depicts the same girl as happy and sad. Her work has been featured on platforms such as The Mighty, Design Taxi, and My Modern Met, and psychological centres.
In India, where mental illness is highly misunderstood, and people suffering from it are labelled “mad”, these works attempt to establish a dialogue between people who have acknowledged their issues, those who are struggling to deal with their loved ones, and those who want to understand the problem.
Reshma Valliappan’s paintings, for instance, are used in therapist conferences to illustrate what someone with schizophrenia goes through. But for her, painting serves one purpose: it gets the voices out of her head. She was diagnosed in 2002 and put on anti-psychosis medication, but all it did was put her to sleep for 15 to 20 hours a day. When she finally gave up on them in 2008, the problem worsened. But this time, the voices asked her to paint. “The voices calm once I give them an outlet,” explains Valliappan, 37, whose works range from Goddess Kali to self-mutilation.
Their works have also encouraged people to discuss their own experiences. “Across the world, people have been telling me that these images make them feel less alone,” says Iyengar. The artists are also approached for help. Kocharekar recalls a frantic teenage girl who contacted her on Facebook, saying that she had all the traits described in Kocharekar’s series. What should she do, she asked. Aware that she isn’t qualified to handle the issue, she asked her to seek professional help.
Valliappan’s approach is different: She tries to be a friend. A few years ago, a man brought her girlfriend who was suffering from severe psychosis. “He was at the stage where he was about to kill her and himself,” she says. “I brought her home. First she couldn’t form a coherent word. But eventually she opened up. She said she would try picking up a paintbrush. After eight months, she told me that painting helped her immensely,” says Valliappan.