Long battle with anorexia makes student promote mental health
The artwork has been inspired from stories of people struggling with mental health and her own personal story.
An Emirati student is on a mission to spread awareness on mental health by turning real-life tragic experiences into artwork, including stories of suicidal teens, youngsters who were addicted to pills, self-harming and ones suffering from depression and anxiety.
Maha Hamed Al Yousefi, a visual arts major at the New York University in Abu Dhabi, will be displaying the artwork at a gallery space at her university in the fall.
The artwork has been inspired from stories of people struggling with mental health and her own personal story of when she suffered from anorexia at a young age of 17.
She shared her project details on social media and said she received a large volume of responses from people sharing their mental health stories. She has turned these experiences into conceptual photographs, sound and text pieces.
"The stigma of mental health may perhaps be the biggest barrier that prevents people from reaching out for help in our society. Between self-stigma and social-stigma, I came to learn that these issues were perhaps the two things that prevented me from reaching out for help, for a long time when I suffered through my own personal battles dealing with depression. It made me sicker," Yousefi said.
"The fear of what people might say or instantly label you as 'crazy' once you reach out to a psychiatrist is what keeps a lot of people from not only admitting and realising that they're suffering, but actually reaching out for help. A lack of awareness is definitely an issue not just in our society, but also around the world."
She shared her own story of when she battled with "anorexia, anger issues, outbursts, being overly emotional and sensitive and issues with family" and has turned her experience into artwork as well.
Yousefi had to take a semester off when she started university at the age of 17 after she was diagnosed with anorexia.
"I think the only thing that made it somewhat real was that it was having physical effects on me, and that's the problem, they only start to see cuts and scars when they're physical. The problem, however, was deep-rooted in my years of battle with depression, which often came with anxiety. I've sought therapy for the past couple years on and off ever since," she said.
One of the stories a UAE-based individual shared with Yousefi was about self-harming and not receiving help required from a professional or a loved one.
Part of the story said: "One day, my little brother found this diary that I tried so hard not to expose to the world, and hurried to show it to my mother in hopes of getting me out of trouble. The contents in the diary were extremely dark and grim, it included obvious signs that I was not doing so well in terms of my mental health. I wrote about my deepest insecurities, and frequently mentioned not wanting to be alive.
"My mother didn't bring it up with me at all. Instead she told a family friend about it, hoping that she would be able to help me, but unfortunately, she could not offer the professional help I needed. At the time, I started self-harming out of extreme self loathe and disgust. I didn't know why I was doing this to myself, but it was the only way I knew how to express my hatred towards myself.
"A part of me was hoping that if I make my internal struggles show on the outside people would take my mental health more seriously. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. I've spoken to my family about seeing a therapist so many times, but they completely shun mental health issues, and see it as a stain to one's reputation.
"They insist that religion is the only cure for these kinds of problems that I had internal demons that needed to be abolished, that only God can save me from this, even after I've tried explaining to them that my relationship with God has nothing to do with the fact that I'm mentally struggling. To them, my mental illnesses were merely works of the devil. Eventually, I developed anxiety, I've experienced panic attacks from time to time, and struggled with other factors concerning my mental health."
Yousefi is encouraging UAE residents to email her their stories or views on mental health on firstname.lastname@example.org and she will turn them into art pieces for her display this fall.
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