Visual artist Jade Bryant, 25 from Devon in the UK is part of the ASLI team as our Arts and Mental Health Campaigner & Feature Writer, every campaign we ask our team members and ambassadors if they would like to contribute to our publication. Jade chose to contribute a visual art piece on the social stigmatisation of mental health and here is what she had to say about it:
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
I use art as a means of self help – mental health therapy and as a coping mechanism for my own mental health issues: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Dissociative identity disorder (DID) and as a way of raising awareness about mental health as a whole.
Having personally suffered a lot of judgement inside and outside of the mental health system for my disorders, my chosen subject is with the aim to express my personal feelings of how I have been made to feel since ‘coming out’ as mentally unwell and being open about my journey to recovery and how it has been responded to by with a range of reactions from a variety of people: strangers, mental health professionals, old friends, family, ex-partners, the list goes on… (and not always in a good way).
My motivation stems from my disappointment in how society and the media have painted the mentally unwell and how that affects our treatment, services available to us and all in all, our rights as equal human beings.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
My present goals stand as they always stand, to continue to raise awareness of mental health issues and to highlight how art can be not only a brilliant self therapy method, but how it can also create change and build an understanding of important issues that need to be heard and seen. It has the ability to bring people together and I would love to eventually set up ASLI based workshops in my home area of Devon, as a member of the team, I think running arts and crafts workshops with the idea of mental health awareness at the centre of it, can help a range of people (especially with lengthy waiting times for therapy and entering the system and the amount of cuts we are seeing to services in the area)
I also want to start the idea of regular mental health ‘drops’ – anonymous, free, little self help guides, art prints, and crisis team details and other information in a little package that can be dropped around different locations that may be useful to people.
Have you experienced any form of discrimination; and if so what was it based on and how did you deal with this?
Being young, and being female, I can’t say I haven’t experienced any form of discrimination – as that would be untrue. Ever since I was young I have felt the pressure of having to live up to an unrealistic stereotype of what a ‘girl/ ‘woman’ should be. I have been on the receiving end of shocking conversations with some males that believe they are entitled to my body, just because. From what I can remember most about feeling discriminated against in terms of my sex, most of my mind wanders back to when I have been in working roles. At the age of 12/13 I was a waitress, where I was regularly greeted by derogatory comments from customers, my own boss often told me I was only good as a ‘pretty face’.
When working as a street charity fundraiser, I was part of a team that would be situated in different locations each day. My team was 5 females (including myself) and one team leader who was male. All of my team, briefed me on the ‘tricks of the trade’ – one of which being – because I was young and female, I should dress somewhat ‘attractively’ and in their own words – from the women mostly, they told me ‘short skirts and shorts, low cut tops, your best bet for sign ups is to target young, single looking, single parent possible, males’ – I didn’t stick to this advice, to me, I was working for a charity, why would I need to pander to the discriminatory stigma of my gender in order to make them money? Surely, the charity would speak for itself; this is again where I faced more discrimination, doing the role required constantly trying to stop people going about their day – which often lead to a lot of rude comments, abuse and rejection. I found a lot of people would rather judge my quality of life via the role I was doing, rather than the cause I was doing it for. Eventually, I was told to leave the job for not meeting my targets, which I found odd considering I had met them consistently, each day. I eventually found that my team was over it’s limit, and they had hired someone who already had a previous relationship with one of the team members who had been working with said team for over a year. I felt that it was for the best that I didn’t pursue the job, the pressure was unreal and the cause always seemed shielded by a capitalistic ideology.
What are your opinions on what causes discrimination?
I think a multitude of factors contribute to what causes discrimination, lack of education, misinformation, media propaganda, etc. School education could be a huge area for improvement, I don’t remember us being properly taught about anything to do with discrimination in a modern context. It almost felt as though we were still taught under the guise of ‘if a boy pulls your hair and hurts you, its a sign that he likes you!’ – let alone talking broadly on the subject of race at all, it always felt as though we were being taught in a way that already made us segregated from the people and situations we were learning about. I remember education in regard to this matter being abrupt, short and very absolute, in a black and white manner of thinking – as if there were no grey areas. But of course, there are always grey areas.
The media does no real effort to help lessen discrimination, if anything it would be more aptly suited to say that it effectively contributes to more discrimination than it does hinder any. I say this because daily we see news stories clearly showing the discrimination towards genders, ethnicity, races, cultures and many more. We see young, white males, clearly guilty of sexual abuse crimes walk free after a reduced sentence – yet some black people are losing their lives for driving home from work…
What do you do to actively stand against discrimination and have you ever had to intervene as a witness to it?
I do my best to always stand up for whomever may need it, may that be a stranger on the street, or someone I have known for years. Aside from using my art and writing as means of actively standing against discrimination; I have been witness to quite a few examples of discrimination in my life, there have been times where I have intervened, there have been times where I have not. But all have had reason.
I have stood up for my female friends in situations where males have called them out in a derogatory tone, or tried to be to hands on when they have made clear indication of not wanting their personal space invaded.
As a team member to the ASLI team, mostly dealing in the area of mental health awareness and advocacy, I would say that part of my stand against discrimination is by use of participating in issues like this one, as well as using my own artwork to try to further understanding of social issues.
What are your opinions on labels and stereotypes?
I have always felt that stereotypes are damaging to our overall humanity. They very rarely regulate positive connotations, and mostly always create a dramatised, fictitious idea of who people are. I live in quite a rural area of Devon, where impressions of any ethnicities other than our own are quite negative. Despite the fact cultural diversity isn’t particularly booming here. The media has always played a role, I believe, in segregating people via how they look, act or what they believe in. When we label people, or stereotype anyone – we are setting ourselves apart from our fellow human beings. It creates a scapegoat for the media to mislead and misinform us – shifting blame onto innocent people. Anything that further drives a wedge between us and our fellow human beings, usually at the cost of lives and people’s well being, is not something I believe to be useful or good for humanity. Having been regularly ‘stereotyped’ in school and growing up, I have felt only a small manner of what that sort of segregation feels like; and it’s usually painful, disappointing, and tiring and isolating. Always with the common jokes, and typical insults that would ensue from a base ‘stereotype’ of a certain type of person, usually always an outside opinion formed solely on what a person looks like.
What are your opinions on national identity and in your opinion does nationalism create or deter discrimination?
In and ideal world, I would ideally love to be able to just say ‘I am a citizen of the world’. I don’t believe we need to have ‘borders’ – people should be allowed free movement, I don’t believe that the very few who made those rules that stopped that motion, should be able to speak for the millions who also share this planet. I do believe that nationalism adds to discrimination and often fuels it, but I wouldn’t say that it is the root cause/creator. There is nothing wrong with having pride in ones country, or where one is from, I just choose to celebrate that as a human being that lives on planet earth, not Jade Bryant, English citizen of the United Kingdom. It becomes an issue, when that pride eventually rolls down the generations and misleads them into a huge sense of entitlement, that entitlement – with a little help from the media adding to racial stereotyping and scape goating of whole religions, creates a pool of people who have been misinformed about their own history, and their place in it.
Quite simply, Stanhope said it best:
““Nationalism does nothing but teach you to hate people you never met, and to take pride in accomplishments you had no part in.”
― Doug Stanhope”
What social privileges do you have? For example: are you white, able bodied/minded, a man, rich, heterosexual, thin… etc.
In many ways according to the question, I am very privileged, I’m young, thin, and white. I can’t say I’m able bodied/minded because I do have a range of health and mental health issues. I do not come from wealth at all, and am nowhere near what could be considered rich. I see myself as privileged in mostly small ways, I have close friends who are incapable of doing things I may sometimes find no problem, so I often remind myself of this – and with that it makes me appreciate the things I can manage, because even though they may seem as small to some, like just going out to the shops or speaking to someone in the street, those things are things that some people would give anything to be able to do without a second thought. I’ll admit, for myself, because of my DID – it can often be a mixed bag of whether I can even achieve those seemingly small every day tasks. Some days I’ll even surprise myself with what I have accomplished (sometimes because someone has had to remind me I actually did do them!) And other days, it will be very obvious that I just can’t seem to get my body to move, or find the motivation to even speak out loud.
How does social privilege affect our world in your opinion?
In multiple ways; there are so many types of privilege that affect our world that it is difficult to narrow it into one answer.
Privilege; in any meaning of the word – continues to affect our world through the continued segregation and misunderstanding towards certain people. It hinders our progress as a collective humanity by creating insignificant differences amongst us. I feel it all comes down to the same root issue really, keeping people in a state of opposal to a certain ideology, group of people, politics, etc, etc. Privileged groups usually hold power, that power usually enables them to form laws, rules and other regulations, but it also creates a hierarchy, the group in power privilege from the under classes work, i.e. capitalism. Thus said, the people at the top of the ladder hone the most benefits, but usually at the cost of some sort of morality. Privilege is a phenomena that cannot work under the guise of equality, it needs inequality in order to perpetuate itself and continue to succeed.
Have you ever denied your own privilege due to feelings of guilt or misunderstanding?
I have denied my own privilege, countless times, but not from feelings of guilt or misunderstanding – but because in each moment I have done this, I have chosen to. I have chosen to deny my own privilege, for the sake of someone who may not have that same one, simply because I feel it human of me to do so. In the simplest of terms, to me, even being able to eat a meal is a privilege – there have been times in my youth, where I was close with a person who didn’t have that much of a benefit, so often times when she and I were hanging out together listening to music in my room, and mum called my name for tea (she would often deny her own privilege too in the same way) – I’d often ask my friend if she would like it instead, not because I felt guilty for her – but because I could relate to her in some ways – I’d seen brief instances of her home life, I could empathise. I knew I had my mum in my secret corner most of the time – my friend didn’t have that safety net in her house, and while I knew I couldn’t go in and give her parents a lesson in parenting, I decided the least I could do was help her in the small ways I could. I never took pity on her, she was my equal, and my friend.
I’ll admit on the other hand there may have been times where I have denied my own privilege out of assumed guilt, but having two personality disorders often plays a role in the reason for that guilt. Often times, I haven’t felt ‘worthy’ of anything, so you deny yourself even your own privilege out of spite of not feeling as though you deserve it. This isn’t a self deprecatory act more so than it is an act of numbness.
Do you feel social privilege should be taught at school and if so why and how young?
That is an interesting question, but given some thought, yes, I do think it should be taught in schools, along with more information about mental health. These things make up our society, and inevitably affect it. I was the butt of many socially privileged ‘jokes’ back in school, even in primary. So I believe, it should at least be taught as early as primary school (possibly pre school) in some cases, but in an informative manner. What I really believe, is that parents should be functional in teaching their children these essential life skills too, as caregivers, children often lead by the example their parents are setting, watch how they interact and copy it, and so on – teaching parents how to teach their children, should also be a priority. It is quite sad that we even have to ask should this be taught, it is sad that privilege does what it does. It speaks for a changing world when someone has more, and they instead of sharing or bettering the world around them, decide to barter more of it away at the risk of their human counterparts.
10. Have you ever experienced social stigmatisation and if so what was it based on and how did you deal with this?
Many times. Mostly while I have been under my local mental health team. I have had to attend countless meetings with the head of my local team and other officials because of my assumed ‘behaviours’ when communicating with some of the staff. I was recently sent to a final warning meeting about my behaviour based on one interaction with a receptionist. Who I was told, took my behaviour ‘personally’ when I was in a moment of clear crisis, and it also came to light that the team had proceeded with this meeting without any evidence of what I was supposed to have done that violent or threatening. Suggesting they can take the word of a non medically trained member of staff, working in a first point of contact for people suffering with issues in their mental health role, over the word of the person navigating the system. All this says to me is that there is a clear imbalance of equality. This latest meeting threatened to cut off all of my mental health care, therapy, medication, and more – somehow I don’t feel that power imbalance to be particularly just. Especially when I have tried to raise my hand and complain about their treatment since day one, yet I seem to be the one still getting threatening letters with police action. I must reiterate, I have never once threatened a member of staff or been violent towards anyone in the profession. I lose my patience sometimes, like most people do, and most people would, trying to navigate these systems and their rules.
Because not only that, but I am going through consistent what could be a ‘classic example’ of social stigma, still within the realms of the mental health system. I stand at a mere 5”4 (ish) and weigh a humble 7 stone. I’m aware my BMI states ‘underweight’. The reason I lost so much weight was for multiple reasons – but – I am not unwell. So – when I had to send off my assessment to the DWP and had to have supporting evidence, I asked my mental health team for any copies of documents they had of mine. I was sent quite a few I’d seen before, and interestingly, one I hadn’t been sent – but should have been. When I read the assessment write up letter that had been wrote, in the space that had the header ‘Diagnosis:’ he had written, “Anorexia nervosa” Something never touched upon in any former assessment or GP appointment, or in the specific assessment that he was writing of– because I am not anorexic. Ever since this, every person dealing with my mental health care has been pushing this idea. I’m constantly asked about my weight, what I eat, If I don’t eat to punish myself, and every single time I say the same thing: ‘I’m not anorexic, I have been this weight for over a year and continue to eat as much as I feel I want to – believe me, if there’s food around that I like, it won’t be there for long” and not once have the mental health team weighed me, so to make that huge assumption is just amazing really. Instead of engaging on what I actually went into the system for, they would rather push diagnosis’ on me that I have never had, or don’t have. Given that I have never spoken to them about any real issues with my weight, they have never weighed me, or spoken to me about this ‘hunch’ they have had prior to any of this, not one thing to suggest it should be something they would look into – the only conclusion I’m led back to is that when some people look at me, all they see is my size, and this, this is a form of social stigma. Landing people into categories of severe mental and physical illness based on something as simple as looking at me, yet never even asking me a thing. Furthering that this is their own perception of ‘beauty/healthy/whatever’ gone askew, they have taken their personal opinion on how I look, and tried turning it into something ‘diagnosable’.
I am still dealing with this type of stigmatisation from my mental health team, who just won’t seem to drop the subject no matter how much I press it.
What are your opinions on political powers and world leaders using stigmatisation against certain groups to further their own agendas, such as with Muslims, Black people, LGBTQ individuals, mentally ill and disabled people?
I don’t believe it to be completely misjudged to believe that our government uses clear propaganda to influence our opinions on certain groups of people, in order to keep their agendas satisfied and the public on their side. They often portray the mentally ill to be ‘dangerous and violent’ and there are countless news articles that are worded to just that affect, often with very little mention as to who the person actually is. They also misuse words in order to create a strong picture in the public’s mind of disharmony and inequality, such as: the rhetoric currently being debated that Donald Trump is unfit to rule as President because he has ‘mental health issues’ – no, they know every word they write has the power to be influential, and the people in power of running these articles, and writing them, are ruled by that very same agenda, they drop in a couple of words and a huge chunk of society reads no further, because they take what they see as truth (call it an ignorance in convenience) – thereby; creating a clear discord between society, and people who may be mentally unwell – which is what my current painting for this submission aims to reflect. That the mentally unwell are often and always portrayed in society as ‘monsters’ ‘something to fear’ ‘beware of’ etc. The symbolism of the spider, I took brief audience interaction from – I basically wrote up a poll asking what people feared the most out of three or four of the most commonly feared and dangerous animals on the planet. Quite obviously, arachnids won. With that information – I decided to use it for symbolism. The spider, wearing a skull as a body, represents the stretched truth of how we, the mentally unwell, are made out to look, the skull adding to the dramatised sensationalism that is also made from us. An example of this is often found in TV and Film, using mental illnesses as characteristic horror-thriller traits, often highly misunderstood and lacking in grounded reality, one of the most current examples of this type of thing would be M. Night Shyamalan’s recent horror-thriller’Split’ – a film about a person with DID who kidnaps some young women, but also has an alter who apparently can alter his body chemistry to such a point where he can climb walls like Spiderman.
But, Overall, my opinion on political powers using any group of people to further their own means and ends, is just plain evil. It isn’t done to help raise a healthy and truthful awareness of any of these groups, if anything it is almost always aimed at creating more divides, that you can usually trace back to a political agenda.
Do you support or take part in any anti-stigma organisations or charities and if so which ones and why?
I support a range of charities that aid in anti-stigma movements. Art Saves Lives being the main one! But I also support the charities: Mind, PDAN, Rethink, Project Semicolon. I also regularly participate in the Time To Talk events as best as I can.
I have been a supporter of the UAF movement for some time now. I also support the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. As well as these things I support the use of service dogs for people with mental illnesses – and feel this is something that we should better help research and fund. I support these causes and many others for simply the reason that I believe people should be treated equally, we all deserve the same rights as one another. Most of these organisations are set up or founded under suffering loss, or some kind of imbalance within society, or a lack of something that people who need it – cannot access. So all of these organisations are set up to strive to bring equality and understanding to everyone, and to be able to give people who are in need, the help they deserve, or to just simply educate people, give people a voice, so that they can be heard. These things are important for us as a society within the workings of the media, and our own government, we are flooded with biased information that misleads people’s opinions of their fellow man, under false pretences, and creates more of a divide between people, so these types of organisation serve to give the truth a platform, and with that, it brings people like myself and so many others – hope.
In your own words please tell us how you feel the arts and creativity can further help to empower, communicate and educate people with regards to discrimination, privilege and stigmatisation?
Art is a language that anyone can communicate in, it is always open to interpretation and I believe that those are imperative qualities that make the arts and creativity such brilliant methods of education and communication about such important issues that need more awareness and education. Art of any kind, be it music, painting, drawing, animation, photography, etc, they all allow us to see what the artist intends, as well as what we interpret, with that comes the ability to create in ways that do in fact, educate people. People can tell or hide as much as they want through creativity – but still allow themselves the freedom to have a voice about such subjects that they may be feeling, be that stigmatisation, discrimination or privilege.
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