Mental illness spotlighted in exhibit by artist who struggled with depression

Mental illness throws shadows on lives and loved ones, but an Edmonton photographer hopes her art project will shed light.

'We all believe in you': Photographer hopes project inspires community and support

Heather: "I suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of my son. During this time I felt very isolated and ashamed. I hope that by participating in the 'We All Believe In You' project, people will realize they are not alone and that talking about mental health issues is okay." (Blake Loates)

Mental illness throws shadows on lives and loved ones, but an Edmonton photographer hopes her new art project will shed light.

Blake Loates photographed people in Edmonton who battled mental illness, including Mountie Ron Campbell and the sisters of a University of Alberta student who died from suicide, so they could share their stories and create a new community.

Loates herself was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when she was just 14 years old.

"When you're depressed, you feel so alone. You feel like you're the only person on earth who's going through this," Loates said, as she described crippling panic attacks and distorted thinking.

"I didn't even leave my bedroom for like two months."

Anchors in art

Back then, her mom told her not to tell anyone about her problems. "It wasn't something that people were talking about, nor something that people really understood," Loates said.

But she rejected that idea, "because I felt it [the illness] wasn't my fault." She has openly shared her story over the past 20 years, and now she's giving others the chance to do the same.

The project is called "We all believe in you," a positive affirmation Loates believes people need to hear.

"'We all believe in you' is basically the community coming together to believe in a person who really needs that belief and hope that they may not otherwise have," she said.

"They can look to us to have a community for them and feel that they can make it through to tomorrow, or even just get through this minute or hour."

The full collection of photos will be on display at the Art Gallery of Alberta May 2 to open mental health awareness week.

Lindsey: "I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder just over 15 years ago. It has been a long road of recovery with plenty of ups and downs. If I had one thing to tell people, it would be to let go of the idea of a perfect recovery. It might be messy, it will definitely be hard, but you are always worth it.” (Blake Loates)
Vanlee and Angela are Evan Tran's sisters. Tran died from suicide last fall. Loates said the sisters contacted her when they heard about her project. "It is my intention ... to help carry on Evan Tran's light," said Loates. "His light will never be extinguished." (Blake Loates)
Ron Campbell is a well-known RCMP officer who had PTSD and depression. He has talked publicly about the experience often, saying he refuses to be a victim. (Blake Loates)
Alissa: "Mental illness is that it's not a female thing, or an LGBT+ thing, it's a human thing. It can affect anyone, its really not a choice! And yes, my mental health has become something like my gender or sexuality, an aspect of who I am, but it is not me." (Blake Loates)
Alexis. "I have had depression on and off since I was 10 years old. I have also suffered from seasonal affective disorder. My hope is that we can eradicate the stigma around mental illness and have the conversations that we need to have ... find the moments of joy." (Blake Loates)
Hannah: "I have struggled with depression and anxiety. My advice to people is to find your port in the storm. For me, that is an incredible friend. And on the days that you can’t - find your community. You will need people. They will help you foster that little bit of hope you have found." (Blake Loates)
Project founder, Blake Loates: “When I’m taking photos, it’s like the purest form of meditation for me ... I get out of my head. It’s just me and my subject for that span of time.” (Michel Feist)


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