This Is How Mental Illness Really Feels

This story was originally published on January 9, 2015.
"As a person who suffers from bipolar II disorder," says Portland-based artist Liz Obert, "I lead a double life. I have one persona that people see every day, and another that I hide from the world."
Obert's experience inspired her to document the double lives of others with mental disorders, specifically bipolar disorder and depression. Each portrait in Obert's series, entitled "Dualities," has two sides. "The first presents the individuals as they prefer to be seen — for example, dressed up for a formal portrait or playing the guitar," Obert explains. "The second shows what they do when they are depressed, such as lying in bed." Obert explains her intention is to capture "two images of each person, one up and one down." The photos also include captions, handwritten by the subjects, revealing details about their experiences and emotions.
The series puts human faces on devastating disorders that affect millions of people. The CDC reports that 1 in 10 U.S. adults struggles with depression, with women two times more likely than men to develop the disorder. And, 4% of of U.S. adults will experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives, with the condition also being more prevalent in women.
These disorders are often "invisible," in that those who struggle with them often suffer in silence. With "Dualities," Obert amplifies their voices. "I give the subject control over the setting," she explains. "They decide where they want to be photographed and what they will be doing." Everyone, not just those with mental disorders, can relate to the idea of dual states of mind — our confident social personas juxtaposed with our fearful, lonely inner voices. "It is my hope that interacting with this work will reduce the stigma of bipolar disorder and depression," Obert says. "Through this series and the conversations that I hope it inspires, people without these disorders can connect with the people who have them." Click through for the powerful images, including Obert's own self-portrait.

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