TW: This article contains references to mental illness and suicide.
If you fracture a part of your body, your friends or family will immediately rush you to the hospital, where the doctor will wrap a plaster around your injury, and within a month or two, you’ll be fit and fine again. During your period of recovery, you will carry around tangible proof of your physical injury, which makes it easy to explain. Even when you have an invisible physical ailment, whether it is something as minuscule as a stomach upset or something as grave as a kidney stone, you can still explain the symptoms to your well-wishers or to any concerned person with ease.
The point that I’m trying to make is that physical ailments can be readily spotted, expressed and the vocabulary surrounding physical ailments is much more accessible and accepted, as compared to a disembodied phenomenon, which is mental illness. A person suffering from clinical depression can completely hide it from the world, with a bright smile on their face, while crumbling into bits, inside. Famous global personalities such as Robin Williams and Chester Bennington are two perfects example of that — even in the respective days before they tragically committed suicide, they managed to hide their struggle from the entire world, even their friends and family.
For the longest time, especially in a country like India, mental health has been stigmatized. Even though we, as a nation, are slowly unlearning that, it will take many more years before all the taboos surrounding mental health are eradicated. What makes mental health so inaccessible to Indians, is the lack of knowledge about the subject. Most of us, along with our friends and family, are happy to look the other way, even when we, ourselves, or someone close to us, may have been suffering from mental illnesses for years.
Most Indians have been exposed to such societal conditioning that they would rather turn a blind eye to their own mental health and continue to suffer instead of seeking help. This social phenomenon is rooted in the fear of ostracization. Even when some people can acknowledge their ailing mental health, in India, seeking professional help is an expensive affair, which further solidifies the case as to why mental illnesses are discounted. It is much easier and less accountable to call another person 'crazy', 'lazy' or some other cruel adjective, rather than acknowledge that they may be suffering from serious mental disorders.
In such a societal context, it has become extremely important to exemplify conversations around mental health. While medical science has been at it for years in its own curative way, art also plays an important role when it comes to de-stigmatizing and battling mental health. A unique and thoughtful photo series, titled Oscillation, by Delhi-based photographer Vidushi Gupta, dives into intricately portraying arduous personal battles with mental disorders. The series goes a long way in artistically portraying a theme, that is still clouded by taboo. A series such as this not only makes the viewer empathize with the artist but also provides an avenue to visually relate a person's daily struggle with their own mental illness.
Vidushi Gupta, on the title 'Oscillation'
All good art comes from a place of authenticity and personal experiences — and Vidushi’s photo project certainly fits the bill. Through the medium of photography, she has translated her personal fray into something larger than herself. During the initial years of her treatment, while struggling with symptoms of a mental disorder, she was in denial for most parts. She kept oscillating between what was real and imaginary. The photo series is a reflective ongoing body of work that explores the emotional and physical distress of people suffering from mental illnesses.
It has been four years since Vidushi was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder with overlapping symptoms of bipolar disorder. She embarked upon this project once she became ready to visually narrate her experiences and struggles. The idea behind it is to not only represent herself but to create something that can help her audiences to relate and incentivize awareness among others. The visuals that she has created are intended to metaphorically describe her journey with mental illness over the years. The project intends to bring out the personal challenges of functioning in a neurotypical society, which attaches a great deal of stigma to anyone diagnosed with or exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. Oscillation is the kind of homegrown art that carries within it immense potential to usher in small ripples of what will hopefully spur a large societal shift in perception as well as action.
Vidushi Gupta, on the inspiration behind her project
Vidushi is a documentary photographer who has received formal education in art and photography while pursuing a Bachelor of Design from the National Institute of Fashion Technology. You can find out more about her here.