How Horror Artists and Photographers are Exploring Mental Health

As we explored during Disability in Horror Month, for many people, being creative can be an effective form of therapy.

Many of the talented creators we featured had begun drawing, filmmaking, or photographing as methods of expressing the complex range of emotions their mental health conditions caused. Indeed, there are many horror projects which have been inspired by individual experience of these conditions. Iconic horror films in this category include Jacob’s Ladder; which focuses on hallucinations associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the more recent The Babadook – which explores depression and grief.

Outside of the movies though, there are many horror artist and photographers who are creating innovative works that aim to present different viewpoints on various conditions. We’re taking a look at some stand out artists and projects that you might want to check out.

Christian Sampson is a photographer who created a series of haunting images depicting some of the most common mental illness. Although he started in wedding photography, he was inspired to create the images of disorders suffered by people who he is close to. Among the conditions featured in the series are depression, anxiety and panic disorders.

“I love compositing and the power that it can have on viewers.” he explained.

The series is shot in black and white, giving it a more haunting feel. Some of the images resemble early German horror films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. “I was inspired by different people in my life that struggle with a lot of these health issues”, Sampson says.

Haenuli is a South Korean designer who created a horror comic to explain her experiences with mental illness. The comic follows a skeletal character who forms a relationship with a woman – representative of the relationship the artist shares with her depression.

In the comic we see the skeleton comforting the woman, showing her affection and sharing conversations. The purpose of the artwork was for the artist to gain a greater insight into her mental health, and to reach greater acceptance of herself. As well as an interesting look at the impact of depression, the comic is beautifully illustrated and visually engaging.

Toby Allen, aka zestydoesthings is the illustrator behind Real Monsters. In this quirky art series we see a range of mental health disorders depicted as fantasy-horror creatures and monsters. Each character’s design is influenced by the condition it represents, with Allen researching case studies as he comes up with the look of each monster. “I hope to draw attention to mental illnesses that often get ignored or aren’t taken as seriously as they should.” he explains on his blog.

Along with the illustrations, Toby gives each monster a description and a story, to help further explain how these illnesses affect sufferers. He hopes to turn the series into a book. “The project highlights conditions that some people may have never even heard of, so the work aims to raise awareness for these.” he says.

These artists and photographers – alongside many others – succeed in using horror imagery to convey mental health issues. From the bleak and haunting to the cartoony – horror continues to be an outlet for emotion, or therapy for many who experience mental illness.