It’s time to learn the ABCs of mental health.

This Bengaluru artists series on mental health is taking down taboos one letter at a timeSonaksha Iyengar/Instagram
Features Mental health Sunday, April 09, 2017 - 18:49

A is for Anxiety disorder, which cannot be wished away and can actually get worse over time. 

B is for Bipolar disorder, that causes unusual manic episodes and does not mean temper tantrums.

C is for Cotard delusion, a rare mental condition where a person believes that they are dead.

D is for Depersonalisation disorder and it makes a person feel they are an outside observer of their own bodies or thoughts.

E is for Eating disorder and it is not attention seeking.

Freelance illustrator and designer Sonaksha Iyengar's #AtoZofMentalHealth series, followed by #0to9affirmations, aims to eliminate the taboo around mental health, one sketch- per alphabet or number- a time.

The 22-year-old artist from Bengaluru started the series in February as part of the "36 Days of Type" project which invites designers, illustrators and graphic artists from across the world to share their take on the alphabet and numbers. 

For 36 consecutive days, Sonaksha put out illustrations on various kinds of mental illnesses - from the most common ones to those that may be relatively well-known but are complex in nature and some that are rare.

"I had been wanting to do something in the space of mental health for a long time. I thought that there was no better way than to start an AtoZ project because that is the first thing we learn when we are learning languages too," she explains. 

Prior to starting work on the series, Sonaksha focused on research, did plenty of reading, and even listened to personal experiences of people to understand what it actually feels like when you suffer from a mental illness. 


A repeated urge to pull one’s hair, trichotillomania is often perceived as something that can be stopped with will power or by just wanting to stop, but no. An impulse control disorder, characterised under body focused repetitive behaviour, people with trichotillomania know that they’re hurting themselves or damaging their hair but are just unable to stop since it is involuntary. Shrouded with tension/anxiety before the act and a sense of gratification after. They often end up feeling embarrassed or ashamed and the whole process can be so painful. So please, don’t tell them to get over it or pass hurtful comments. #atozofmentalhealth - - - - - #365daysofart #drawingaday #36daysoftype @36daysoftype #36days_T #36daysoftype04 #mentalhealth #art #typography #trichotillomania #anxiety #watercolor #igart #sketchbook #digitalart #illustration #selflove #endthestigma #brain #invisibleillness #mentalhealthawareness

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Undifferentiated Somatoform Disorder is now a part of Somatic Symptom Disorder. But I’m including it under U because I think this is a disorder that is largely mistaken as something made up in the head or as a way to seek attention. A person is diagnosed with somatic symptom disorder when a huge part of their lives is spent in constant distress because they have physical symptoms like pain or fatigue but there seem to be no medical reasons for them. They tend to excessively worry because having visible symptoms of sickness without having any actual ‘medical term or reason’ for it is scary. But, a lot of people tend to assume that they are exaggerating the severity of the situation, hence they end up feeling even more hassled. It is important not to jump to conclusions and instead focus on arriving at the solution via a series of necessary tests. Please listen and consider. Don’t say it is a myth because there’s almost nothing as terrible as feeling like your pain is invalid. #atozofmentalhealth - - - - - #365daysofart #drawingaday #36daysoftype @36daysoftype #36days_U #36daysoftype04 #mentalhealth #art #typography #somaticsymptomdisorder #watercolor #igart #sketchbook #digitalart #illustration #selflove #endthestigma #brain #invisibleillness #mentalhealthawareness #pain

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We all worry, before an exam, before an interview, before moving out. While worrying can help us to an extent to be prepared for uncertainties and find solutions, sometimes they just spiral in an unhealthy manner and become a toxic shield. So it's important to find techniques to keep our worrying in check. But it isn't the same for everyone, some people involuntarily worry about everything. Sometimes these things don’t even pose threats, but they feel chronically anxious about it. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) doesn’t come with a warning sign. It drains them out, leaving them exhausted, restless and irritable. But the solution isn’t to tell them, “Don’t worry, be happy.” If they could, they would. It’s important to seek professional support and also be supportive by being patient, rather than rushing them to stop. #atozofmentalhealth - - - - - #365daysofart #drawingaday #36daysoftype @36daysoftype #36days_V #36daysoftype04 #mentalhealth #art #typography #worry #anxiety #gad #watercolor #igart #sketchbook #digitalart #illustration #selflove #endthestigma #brain #invisibleillness #mentalhealthawareness #pain

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This included drawing from her own experiences. 

"I've had my personal share of struggling with my mental health, the kind of taboo that comes with it in society and the way people react to it," she states. 

"I wanted to address the myths and stigma attached to mental health. Like people are okay talking about their diabetes but not their mental disorder. Like people think that those who have mental disorders are really violent and we often end up isolating them. It is the little things like these that need to be talked about. We should not put aside those who have mental issues as it is all of us have it at some level," she adds.

The response to the series has been one of the best things to have come out of the project, feels Sonaksha. 

People wrote emails, left messages on Instagram, or commented on her posts stating how they related to her creations in some way or the other. 

Many narrated their experiences to her, about their struggles with mental illnesses and stories of being accepted by their families. One even told her that they would show it to their family and that "maybe they will understand that I am not joking or doing this for attention". 

"This is what kept me going even when it was hard on some days to try and figure out how to properly express a disorder in one image. If it can provide them some kind of comfort for even a minute, it is still a great deal for me," she says. 

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