The public and private faces of depression, anxiety and mental illness

Katherine from Liz Obert's Dualities series.
Liz Obert

Katherine from Liz Obert's Dualities series.

The image we present to the world and the reality of our lives are often at odds.

Of course there is the tendency on social media to put your best-looking foot forward.

I recall sitting on the same couch as a lonesome guy at a bar and watching in bemusement and agony as he took photos of the communal martini glasses on the table and uploaded them to social media pretending he was there having a gay old time with a bunch of mates.

But this idea is more than that.

This is when the image we present to the real world is at odds with the reality of our private world.

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As a kid, I remember friends would comment on what a perfect family mine was: three healthy, athletic children who were close with their parents, parents who were together and in love.

I remember being baffled.

Because, the reality behind closed doors was true and yet also at odds with this image.

For one of my family members has long suffered mental illness and it cut fractures through our existence.

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Growing up, I came to realise this was not unusual. I have watched close friends who would shut themselves away to recoil into their pain and the next moment epitomise extroversion and radiant happiness.

Everything is not always as it seems.

And this is an idea that inspired artist Liz Obert's latest works.

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For years Obert hid the face of her own depression. She would get dressed and go to work acting as though she was fine, before coming home and falling in a heap.

She was eventually diagnosed with bipolar and has benefited from treatment.  

But Obert wanted to capture this idea of people who are hurting and who "must mask their symptoms in order to function in the outside world".

Starting with a self-portrait, she began taking photos of people's private and public personas.

One image showed how the subject presented to the world, the second showed them on their own.

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"I hope to give a glimpse to the viewer about the internal lives of people who struggle with disorders that are often misunderstood," she wrote in an artist statement about the series Dualities.

She also hopes to offer insight into a subject that is still bound by stigma.

"As I've been doing this project I found that a lot of people don't have a clear view of what bipolar and depression is – bipolar in particular," she said. 

"I think the world still needs to be educated a bit more in that process. Robin Williams' death brought it up a bit in the press and through that we were able to create discussions about it but most of the time it is unspoken."

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 - Sydney Morning Herald


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