Turning to Instagram to heal mental illness

“You are beautiful” writes Sabia
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Mental illness sufferers are turning to Instagram to illustrate their journey predicament, reports Brooke Grebert-Craig.

Two artists have turned to Instagram to visually share their journey of mental illness recovery.

Marcela Sabia and Christie Begnell are mental health advocates who post illustrations to promote self-love and body acceptance.

Marcela Sabia, a 27-year old professional illustrator from Brazil, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety four years ago.

“At the time I developed a panic syndrome and could hardly leave the house. I started taking medications, doing therapy sessions and eventually got better over time,” says Sabia.

Her therapist suggested that Sabia should start drawing during one of her treatments.

“I wanted to use the illustrations to vent and express myself and that’s what I did. Fortunately, I ended up helping other people and that inspired me to continue,” says Sabia.

“You are beautiful” writes Sabia

According to Mind Frame, each year one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness.

Melbourne psychologist Anita Missiha, encourages her patients to find something that brings them joy to help them through the recovery process.

“Find things that help you feel good and choose something you can do that won’t be a burden,” says Missiha.

In 2015, Sabia used her childhood talent of illustrating to help others struggling with their mental health.

One of her first messages was from a follower in Australia, who opened up about their journey of self-acceptance. Attached to the message was a picture of the follower in their underwear.

“I found that incredible and asked for her permission to draw the picture. After that I began to encourage more people to share their testimonies and that was what gave rise to the other illustrations,” says Sabia.

Sabia doesn’t plan her illustrations, she says it’s a “intuitive process” that is “spontaneous.”

She usually researches an idea or an event to inspire her. Sabia speaks to followers, watches movies and documentaries, reads books or uses Pinterest to “awake” her creativity.

“When it’s about some experience in my life the process is faster and more objective. I make the sketch by hand and then I finish the illustration digitally,” says Sabia.

Christie Begnell, a 24-year old psychology student from Sydney, grew up in love with drawing.

“My parents always tried to encourage me to play sports, but I was more interested in staying indoors and creating things,” says Begnell.

However, it wasn’t until she was battling with her own mental health issues that she realised that posting her drawings on Instagram was a way for her to reflect on her illnesses.

“My own mental illnesses kicked in when I was about 15 in the form of depression. By 18 I had awful anxiety, and at 20, I developed my Eating Disorder,” says Begnell.

“It wasn’t until I was admitted to a psych ward May last year, that I started drawing again. What started off as little cartoons, turned into a way of showing people what my thoughts were and how scary it was to be in my head,” says Begnell.

Begnell illustrates the struggle of having an eating disorder

She believes that drawing has helped her heal mentally by expressing her emotions.

“I love analogies and metaphors because it helps me explain to people what living with a mental illness is like, and I can use my drawings to make those emotions visual,” says Begnell.

Unfortunately, posting personal illustrations on Instagram can led to some criticism, as both Begnell and Sabia have experienced.

“Occasionally I post something that makes me worried about people’s reactions…The last thing I want is to upset or trigger people I’m quite careful about what I post,” says Begnell.

“There are a lot of people who hide behind the internet to say cruel things and I knew that I was subjecting myself to it, so I was a bit insecure. It turns out, not everyone can understand about mental health and female empowerment,” says Sabia.

Likewise, Missiha believes that not enough people are educated about mental illnesses due to it being “about understanding another person’s experience”.

She believes the number one stigma attached to mental health is whether it’s a legitimate illness.

“If you are asthmatic you have no issue taking your asthma pump and if you’re diabetic you have no issue to say you can’t eat sugar and to take your insulin. But to say I need time out because I’m recovering from a mental illness, it’s something you may not see,” says Missiha.

However, Sabia learnt to eventually deal with the negativity and invest her energy into the positive feedback.

“I know that sharing my life in subtitles has a purpose and the power to help people and this has become much more important than my insecurities or approval of people. I can say that today I write with self-confidence and love,” says Sabia.

Both Sabia and Begnell, agree that people who are struggling with mental illnesses need to stop comparing themselves to others and strive to accept their flaws.

“Look for real people to be inspired by. People who are comfortable with their imperfections and encourage you to do the same with your body…there are no barriers to love and accept yourself. You just need to be willing to change your thoughts and believe in your potential,” says Sabia.

If you are suffering from any personal crisis, Lifeline offers 24 hour support at 13 11 14.

You can follow Marcela Sabia @marcelailustra and Christie Begnell @meandmyed.art