The A-Z of Depression is a series of 26 simple, but hard-hitting illustrations on depression by Bangalore-based illustrator Tara Maria Chawla. She worked on them at the end of 2017, and the complete work was published in February 2018. The body of work was crafted for Live Love Laugh Foundation—an initiative spearheaded by actor Deepika Padukone to create awareness around mental health. The foundation was looking to turn their idea into illustrations and since she had worked with them on a few projects including awareness posters for general physicians’ offices and schools, they thought she would be able to convert their thoughts into a relatable social media campaign.
All the 26 letters have a deep connection with the disorder. Could you take us through the ideation and execution process? “Once the team had shortlisted words and ideas for each alphabet, they shared their list with me and I proceeded to think of the different ways I could illustrate them. There were clinical definitions, and then their explanations, so trying to bridge the two was one task. In some cases, there were multiple words, so choosing the word that fit best was another thing I had to keep in mind,” clarifies Chawla.
Adding, “I tried to make sure that the colour scheme was bright, because depression is often linked with heaviness and sadness, but by using brighter hues, I was hoping to show the light and happiness that talking about depression can bring, because breaking the stigma around mental health issues is important.”
Interesting, Chawla herself was battling depression while she first joined the foundation in 2016. She recalls being in the midst of panic attacks and weeklong depressive episodes that left her less than ready to work. “It was with a few small projects and a lot of thought that I finally decided it was time to get help, because after reading about the work they had been doing, a lot of it really clicked with my personal experiences. It was definitely not easy, but after talking to my family, I started therapy and now, close to two years later, I am finally in a position to help other people, through projects like this one facilitates,” enthuses Chawla.
Further, her biggest challenge was ‘illustrating the words in a way that people who didn’t understand what living with depression was like would be able to understand what it felt like.’ Since it’s a sensitive topic, she had to be careful of the images she used. Each definition had to be vetted by the psychologists that work with the foundation before the publication of the project, so the team had to keep in mind the clinical definition on a broader scale and make sure the two concepts aligned.
Anything you learnt from this project? “I think the biggest thing I learnt was that there are most people who can relate to the smaller definitions of the illustrations because as human beings we go through many different stages and emotions. What’s interesting is when you combine all the alphabets, you get closer to understanding just how overwhelming depression can be, and a lot of people may not have fully understood that before this campaign.”
Chawla also thinks that mental health issues are often downplayed in India, because it is not understood by most people and it’s not a commonly discussed topic. “If you have never had to deal with depression and anxiety, you may not understand how crippling it may be to someone who has panic attacks and depressive episodes and how much it can affect your life and work. But the only way to change minds is to educate people,” Chawla adds. Illustrating further, “So, say, yes, this is what happened or this is how I feel, and this is how you can help me. Understand that it may take going to a doctor or a therapist and talking for hours before you feel even a tiny bit better, but also that it is possible to feel better and to be productive.”
As someone in the creative field, she knows there are times when you may feel like you are alone in your journey, and it feels difficult to know if you are going in the right direction, but once you step back and look at it, there are many moments that have helped you reach the point you have reached, so all you can do is work on getting to the next point, because if you look hard enough there is always a new point to get to.
“I think the first step to tackling depression is understanding that it’s okay to have depression. It’s okay to be yourself, and it’s okay to need some time and space, because we live in a connected world and we inevitably wind up comparing ourselves to everyone and everything out there. But your journey is not the same as anyone else’s, so just breathe, and work your hardest, that’s the only thing that counts.”
Follow her work here.
Credits to Live Love Laugh Foundation and the artist.
Follow Live Love Laugh Foundation here.
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Below is the campaign Chawla created for the foundation. Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
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