If We Could See Mental Health

Sarah McKinnon
May, 2021


I knew I wasn’t a normal child. That became clear as I reached for the landline, in a panic, with total certainty that my parents just died in a flaming car accident, despite only going out to get milk. It was routine, for my mother, who would expect an anxiously crying daughter every time she left the house to eventually dial her cell phone.

I knew I wasn’t a normal child, when doctors would suggest selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) instead of vitamins at annual checkups.

I knew I wasn’t a normal child, as I hugged the toilet sick, dry-heaving for eighteen years, from food intolerances and anxiety that plagued my body every morning. I skipped classes in panic attacks, and had more sick days than healthy ones.

I knew I wasn’t normal, when I became too afraid to talk about my thoughts to therapists, because I was convinced that I was slipping into insanity, and was broken beyond fixing.

I wasn’t normal, but somehow, to the world and medical spreadsheets I was, “just an average kid with anxiety” and not a kid who desperately needed help. Between some physical disabilities and my growing mental ones, I missed childhood - and the lack of correct treatment as I got older left me debilitated for weeks on end, and eventually, drove me to a suicide attempt at twenty years-old. Eventually I learned about “intrusive thoughts” and that I, in fact, had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The information was earth-shattering, those two words intrusive thoughts changed and saved my life. I began to wonder how many others were also unseen, and struggled to gain a strong mental health education within public school systems and medical facilities.

In my late teens, and early twenties, as I broke into the advertising industry and New York City, I became determined that every project I created would have an advocacy undertone for mental health. This shoot was no exception and was a nod to the unseen, titled, “If We Could See Mental Health.”

I wanted to remove the facade, despite the more dramatic eye makeup and showcase the scars and expressions that knowingly existed from the onslaught of mental health illnesses many of us face. How would the world view one another and children differently if these wounds were visible and on the surfaces, and our smiles removed? How would we prioritize aid and knowledge? Would there be more kindness, less fear?
The three girls casted were extraordinary. Their stories included; anxiety, depression, relational verbal abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attack disorder, self-harm and speech and hearing impairments.

In the process of these projects, I conducted heavy research to create a web of understanding through various NGOs and foundations. I discovered the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), of which I often found myself returning to due to the vast amount of information they provided to the community. The type of research I yearned to have as a child. The type of information and consumer digestible articles that could save a life if given to parents and school systems.

Outside of this project, I continue to go back to ADAA for various other needs and information. Inspired by ADAAs articles on starting support groups, I decided to launch a ten week mental health support group with forty other women from around the world virtually. The impact of these strangers, now friends, has been monumental and has created a ripple effect of healing.

You don’t need to wait to start something or fill a need among your friends, family, schools and community. Thanks to the information provided by great organizations like ADAA, we have the tools we need to make a difference around those closest to us, and inspire people to not only get professional help, but the right professional help.

Connect with Shannon on Instagram @sunwithsundays and through her website.

Photo Credits
Sarah McKinnon (Photographer, Art Director) Jennifer King (SFX MUA)
Pegah Serajeh (Videographer & Cast) Chioma Ozuzu (Cast)
Sierra Casteel (Cast)
Shot at FD Photo Studio, Long Island City, NY

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