#WithToysinMind

Mental health and wellbeing is something that has touched everyone in one form or another. According to the UK National Health Service, 1 in 6 people experience common mental health issues such as anxiety or depression in any given week.*

I’ve suffered with both depression and anxiety since I was a teen and it took me a long time to admit that I was ill, and even longer for me to seek help. Unlike other illnesses there are no visible symptoms and for long periods of time depression wouldn’t affect me. But the more I pushed that stuff down, the more it bubbled up. And things got much worse. At that point, I sought the help of an Emotional Therapist who let me unload 20 years of frustration. Just as importantly, they helped me organize and understand my feelings.   

Why Toy Photography

Amongst many of my creative outlets, macro photography has always been the most satisfying, although problematic hobby in cloudy, overcast England. On days when a cathartic walk looking for interesting bugs and flowers in the local woodland wasn’t an option, I found willing models in Lego minifigures. Using the knowledge gained from time spent making films, I created cinematic images that I was really proud of and quickly discovered how rewarding this could be.

After posting a few images on social media and getting a good response, I stumbled into a well-established toy photography community on Instagram. Seeing the fantastic work of these artists motivated me to branch out into other toys and figures and to consider different set-ups, scenarios, and lighting styles. The support I have received from fellow toy photographers and the generally positive ethos of everyone – from those with ten’s of followers to those with ten’s of thousands – inspired me to go even further with the medium.

Why I created #WithToysInMind

I felt a need to use this extremely positive platform to start a discussion about Mental Health and I want to use toy photography as a way to communicate. Creating images that represent my own experiences and show how I’ve combatted mental illness.  I also want to open this project to the wider community and get them involved. Toy photography has provided a creative outlet for me and has positively impacted my wellbeing in so many ways. I am hoping that there will be at least a couple of other folks who feel the same way.

After fielding opinions and advice on Instagram about a couple of different hashtags, I settled on #WithToysInMind and the response has been phenomenal.

There are no rules for participation, but I want to avoid concentrating on images of destruction that are closely intertwined with mental illness, e.g., suicide, violence, drugs, and alcohol abuse. Instead, I want this to be a communication of what it’s like to feel certain ways, and how to manage emotions like depression and anxiety. After announcing the start of the project, posts using the #WithToysInMind tag started streaming in, as well as lots of feedback about how the project has encouraged people in different ways. It has been humbling and empowering to see the vastly different and personal depictions of mental health, illness, and personal triumphs.

The conversation is just starting

Despite starting this hashtag, I know that its popularity has nothing to do with me. As a society, we have begun talking about this subject. As more of us have honest conversations with each other about how we struggle, the taboo will fade further into the background. The posts you find in the #WithToysInMind feed show just how nuanced, and personal the subject is. I hope that these images can be one small part of a much wider conversation.

To find out how you can get involved with the #WithToysInMind project please see the FAQ in my Story Highlights. I’ll also be posting a collection of my favourite community images on Mondays to coincide with #MentalHealthMonday.

-Dan Leonard – @TinyEpicPhotos

 

Resource

* McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016). Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014. Leeds: NHS digital.

15 Comments

  1. Laura

    I have been dealing with both depression and more so with anxiety for a very long time and he has gotten much worse since last Sept.

    I recently told my husband how I followed toy photographers on Instagram and I wanted to start branching out into this as well as I love doing photography but haven’t for awhile & thought toy photography could help me get back to something I love in a different way.

    I think what you are doing with this project and your work are amazing. Thank you for giving us another way to bring awareness to such a difficult subject.

    • HI Laura,

      I’m sorry to hear about the worsening of your depression and anxiety. I remember when mine got worse and I felt like as was sinking slowly more and more everyday. Seeing a therapist really helped me get out of that pit. So I hope you get the help you need.

      I’m really glad you’re going to be joining the Toy Photography community, and you’re more than welcome to contribute to the #WithToysInMind project when you do.

  2. Janan

    Fantastic initiative Dan. I’ve followed the hashtag and will continue to support it as mental health awareness needs to be an ongoing discussion, a conversation that remains open. Thanks for doing this mate and being so honest in sharing your story.

  3. brett_wilson

    Dan, I loved reading this. I’m always amazed when people use toy photography as therapy, or as an avenue to expression emotions or raise awareness. Truly inspiring mate. Thank you for sharing this, and for all you’re doing.

    • Hi Brett,

      Photography is such a powerful tool in the right hands, as a single image can convey so many meanings and when given context it can be focused into a distinct and emotional message. I’m learning a lot from this project and in many ways it’s forcing me to create much better images.

  4. HI Laura,

    I’m sorry to hear about the worsening of your depression and anxiety. I remember when mine got worse and I felt like as was sinking slowly more and more everyday. Seeing a therapist really helped me get out of that pit. So I hope you get the help you need.

    I’m really glad you’re going to be joining the Toy Photography community, and you’re more than welcome to contribute to the #WithToysInMind project when you do.

  5. Tony Tulloch

    This is a thoroughly important concept Dan. Like most of us, I have observed that social media can be quite damaging in its own right. However, the toy photographers community seems to rise well above bullying and hate. I see the odd scuffle break out, but mostly I find toy photographers supportive and positive. I wish your hashtag the success it deserves.

  6. Excellent work Dan, thank you so much for writing this up and giving a bit of history and insight into the project. I too have struggled with depression and anxiety, and used toy photography as a therapeutic outlet. I absolutely love and respect that you have put yourself out there and are doing something so positive to bring awareness. I haven’t had the chance to participate much myself, but have been watching and reading the posts and am amazed at what you’ve already been able to accomplish. Thank you!

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