'Nuts', 'bananas', 'crackers'. The words we use to describe people and talk about mental health can have a powerful, and quite often negative impact. Step forward London-based photographer Kay Lockett, who’s aiming to get us to think twice about the language we use with her striking project, Crazy Talk.
"I started to just think about the language we use around mental health," explains Kay, 35, who spent more than two years working on the series of images and accompanying personal stories. "I think we really need to start taking a step back sometimes and think about the way we describe people. From a distance, we can quite easily call someone 'nuts' or 'crazy', but actually there’s a lot more going on there."
Kay was struck by the number of food-related words often used to describe someone suffering from a mental health issue. In Crazy Talk, images of bananas, doughnuts, jelly, nuts and crackers are juxtaposed with arresting portraits of her subjects. She describes how amazed she was by the openness and honesty from those who came forward to be part of the project.
"Some hadn’t actually told anyone before," says Kay, describing the initial conversations she had with those involved. "We focused on the stigmas that were involved and the names they’d been called or things that people had said to them."
"These words do stick with you," she stresses, pointing to a portrait of a woman named Alex, which is accompanied by a still life of peanuts. Having suffered badly from anxiety and panic attacks, Alex, 24, was called 'nuts' by an ex-boyfriend. "It really stuck with her and knocked her confidence for a long time. It made it hard for future relationships because she always thought people would think she’s 'nuts' if she’s a little bit panicky or acts in a certain way."
Brutally honest and individual accounts of a variety of mental health issues, including anorexia, depression and borderline personality disorder, are displayed alongside each of the 10 powerful portraits. "I wanted it [the aesthetic] to be very raw, as if they are laying themselves bare," explains Kay. "A lot of them hadn’t seen themselves quite that raw before either."
It has been a deeply personal project for her too: "I grew up in a family with huge mental health issues, I’ve experienced it firsthand. I know how hard it is to talk about and I know how hard it all is to deal with."
Feedback has been positive, she says, describing how the project appears to have struck a chord with people. "I even got a message from one of the [subject's] mums to say how proud she was, which is always really nice." Crazy Talk has also garnered support from mental health campaign Time to Change, which has featured the project on its own platforms.
Kay's aim with the project is to highlight the taboos, stigmas and lazily used slang that all too often we can be guilty of reaching for. "We just say these words as if they mean nothing but actually, to people who might have mental health issues, it can be quite a negative thing and can really change their day sometimes."
"If I can change a few people’s attitudes to the way they talk about mental health, then I think I’m winning."