24 Haunting Photos Show What Depression Really Feels Like

Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
Christian Hopkins never dreamed of pursuing photography while growing up, but when his mom gave him a point-and-shoot before a trip to China when Hopkins was 16, he forced himself to use the gift. Hopkins didn't just want to document his trip, though. "I wanted to take pictures of things worth capturing — fleeting moments of beauty or intrigue that would only last a moment before eternally disappearing," he tells us. Hopkins was immediately more interested in recording emotions than events, and when he had to create a solo project his senior year, he thought of photography — and his ongoing struggle with major depressive disorder. Maybe, he thought, he could turn his lens on his inner life.

The surreal, evocative images Hopkins developed — photos the now-22-year-old artist has shared on Flickr and Facebook for years — served as both a personal emotional outlet and what The Huffington Post calls "an educational resource for those who may not understand what people with depression so often encounter." We spoke with Hopkins about his artistic process, the healing power of photography, and what he wishes more people knew about mental illness. Click through for his thoughts and 24 of his haunting works.
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
How did you first take up photography?
"I actually started photography when I was 16. I had never even held a camera before, but I was going on a trip to China, and my mom had gotten me a fancy (well, fancy to me; it was really just a nice point-and-shoot) camera to use while I was there. I felt guilty for getting the camera, so I forced myself to use it."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"However, I didn't want to just take pictures of everything in front of me... Instead of taking me away from 'the moment,' having the camera with me actually enhanced the way I saw the world around me."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
Do you have training or are you self-taught?
"I don't really have any training in photography. In fact, I had never taken a class on the subject until a few months ago (six years after I started photography)."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"It was an intro to digital photography class, and it was really just so I could have access to some of their equipment."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
How did your series of images representing your struggle with depression get its start?
"I began creating these photos at the end of my senior year. As seniors, we were required to partake in some sort of independent project. I had been struggling with depression for some time...and I didn't want to do anything that involved talking to or being around other people."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"It was also at this time that I had begun to use these self-portraits as a means of therapy in battling my depression."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"Being able to take emotions with which I was struggling out of my head and trap them in a photograph gave back to me a sense of control over my life...if only for a moment."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"Fortunately, my school approved me 'taking selfies in my bedroom' as my project, and a lot of the images were created during that period."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"Over the years, I continued to use photography to help me through my worst episodes, and I've discovered that these photographs have the added benefit of helping others who are suffering as well."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
What’s your artistic process?
"It's hard to say exactly how I find the best way to visually represent each emotion. A lot of the time, the finished image will just appear in my head, and the actual picture-taking and editing is more of a formality (a formality that can take one to 15 hours, depending on the image)."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"Intentionally sitting down and brainstorming a new image has never really worked for me, and it usually ends in frustration. Most of these images are not the creation of something new, but the capture of something already there."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"I don't have any captions for the photos. Despite [them] being self-portraits, I try to keep as much of myself out of [the photos] as possible."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"It makes it easier for others to elicit their own personal meaning from the image. They are 'self' portraits in the sense that I hope everyone sees a bit of themselves in them."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
What do you wish more people understood about depression?
"How common it is. It affects millions of Americans every year — although it might not seem like it because a lot of people find it a difficult topic to discuss openly."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"There is a lot of stigma surrounding mental illnesses, but once we fully accept that these illnesses are just that, illnesses, then more people will be willing to seek treatment and more people will discover that they are not alone in their suffering."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
What effect do you hope your work will have on viewers?
"I hope these photos are able to help people better understand the symptoms of depression, which are difficult to fully comprehend for the outside observer."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"I also hope that these pictures reveal the possibility of using photography as a powerful means of emotional expression, even if those emotions don't relate to mental illness."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
Any advice about how to express oneself?
"I always like to encourage people to fail."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"That's always been an obstacle of mine: the fear of failing. But after doing it a couple thousand times, I've gotten particularly efficient at it."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"People need to understand that failing is not a sign of weakness; it's an educational tool, and quite a necessary one at that."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"I've never been taught any of this photography stuff."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"I've figured a large amount of it out by failing, looking at that failure, and learning from it. I'm certain that I couldn't have created any of these images without it."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
What’s next for you?
"I have no idea what my projects in the future may be."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hopkins.
"I've told myself a thousand times that I'm going to put down my camera and never pick it up again. Yet here I am."
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