Powerful In-Hospital Self Portraits Show What Depression Looks Like

by Jerriann Sullivan
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Photographer shares her struggles with mental health in raw photo series

Laura Hospes has struggled with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Instead of pretending her mental health issues don’t exist, though, she decided to document her time in a psychiatric hospital. The process allowed her to heal and yielded stunning photos that carry a powerful message for people everywhere.

Hospes was 21 when she was hospitalized following a suicide attempt. While staying at a psychiatric unit in the Netherlands, she decided to document the process to show what mental illness looks like from the inside. The intimate photos show what it’s like to be a “girl, me, who is on the verge of death. The emotions that I experienced in hospitalization were very overwhelming and intense and I hope you can see and feel that in my photos,” she said according to Redbook.

The process was cathartic for the artist as well. “While photographing, I discovered it was such a relief,” Hospes shared. “I was able to cry, to be angry, to be terrified and everything around those feelings which I was unable to show in real life.”

And while the decision to share such private photos can’t be made easily, Hospes is happy with her decision to reveal such a personal time in her life with the world. “By sharing the photos, family and friends could see how I felt,” she explained. “Of course it was very difficult to see me having a hard time, but at least they knew how I felt. I was able to be myself and felt less lonely because of that.”

The photo series is not something you’d typically see on social media sites, and that was part of the motivation behind Hospes’ decision to publish them. “I feel a little rebellion about the fact that many people show only the perfect things in their life on Facebook,” the artist reported. “I want to show that difficult stories are also ‘allowed’ and inspire people to share them too. I hope they also gain love and support back and feel less lonely again.”

Her photos will surely resonate with those of us dealing with our mental health issues. But Hospes has some equally powerful words about the series to share as well. “I also want to add that I’m not crazy. Nobody who ends up in a hospital is crazy. It can overcome everybody and it feels terrible to slowly lose control of your behavior,” she said. “Think of that and think of the people around you who are not able to contact you because of their mental problems. They don’t choose to be in this situation.”

Her advice for friends and family that want to help loved ones: “Send them love and let them know you think about them. That is the most thankful message a hospitalized person can receive.”

In addition to being a creative outlet during a difficult time, the photo series went viral and created additional opportunities for the artist — like her first book. “It happened and I made something positive out of it, my book, so it’s not only a negative part of my life,” she said. Despite viral fame, the project did become overwhelming at times. “I felt an intense pressure to keep up with all the messages from people around the world,” she told reporters. “But I finally felt I could do something. Besides, it’s really pleasant as a photographer to get recognition for your photography. So besides feeling productive, I also felt I was good at something.”

And like most people who struggle with any health issue, Hospes knows that her journey with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders isn’t over. “With extreme ups and extreme downs, I’m still making my way to recovery,” she reported. “The most important thing is that I found my will to recover again. I’m willing to fight again.”