Earlier this week, my publicist Jenna dropped me an email to let me know that The Sun were looking for people with a mental illness to take part in a photoshoot. The shoot, I was told, would be to accompany a feature in the newspaper’s health section, and would be a positive article aiming to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness. I thought this sounded like a great idea and so I put myself forward. I was selected to take part (thanks Jenna!) and the following day all of the details were confirmed over the phone and via email.
Being a naturally anxious person, I knew I was taking on a big challenge. As someone who suffers from stress-related panic attacks, I was dreading meeting everyone and taking part in the photoshoot. My mood was a mixture of excitement and terror, but mostly terror!
On the morning of the shoot I felt pretty nervous and took some Diazepam to settle me down for the taxi ride to Tower Bridge Studios where the shoot was to take place. During the journey I managed to eat a banana for breakfast, and the cab driver kept my mind occupied by talking to me about Sikhism and his religious background and beliefs. This would normally be the kind of conversation I would relish, but I felt the driver and I had little in common, and I stayed mostly silent. At least listening to the driver talking helped to pass the time.
I needn’t have been so anxious. Upon arrival I found the correct studio easily and was greeted by Christina from The Sun, the lady who was organising the feature. She seemed kind and softly spoken, and introduced me to a few other people who were either organising or taking part in the shoot. Somebody brought me a cup of tea and I began to relax into the atmosphere of the studio.
Within an hour or so, everyone who was to take part in the shoot had arrived. A mixture of mental illnesses were represented, including Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Eating Disorder, my own Schizoaffective Disorder, and more. There were six of us taking part, and the others introduced themselves as Charlotte, Beth, James, Nick, and Tasha. Everyone seemed really friendly!
After we had all been touched up with makeup, had our hair styled, and been dressed in some smart/casual clothing, it was time for the individual shots. Each of us took our turn in front of the camera with a variety of poses, some happy, some laughing, and some solemn. The photographer, Stewart, had an expert knack of cracking little jokes in order to help us relax. I was delighted that my shots seemed to go well, even if I did feel like I was forcing a smile at times.
After a delicious buffet lunch our hair and makeup was touched up again and we were dressed in different outfits. It was now time for the group shots. The photographer ushered us all into position (some seated, some standing) and we posed for a variety of shots. Once again, some of the shots were solemn, some smiling and laughing, and then we were asked to speak to each other so there could be some more ‘conversational’ shots. It was difficult to know what to talk about with the camera on us, so we lightheartedly decided to list fruits and types of curry – very amusing!
The group shots went well and it was a huge relief to have all the photographs done. We could get changed back into our regular clothes, scrub off our makeup, and relax!
I was so pleased that the day went smoothly, without any significant hitches. We all made friends with each other and agreed to link up on Facebook and Twitter. It really felt as though I had make some new friends.
To end the day I had a call from Christina, who read back the copy about me that would be submitted for the article. I had actually written most of the copy myself, and there were no unpleasant surprises. I told Christina that I was happy with the article.
Taxis showed up to take each of us home, and I left the studio on a real high, feeling proud that I had survived the day and accomplished something significant. Later that night we were all on social media sharing our delight that the day had gone so well.
The article is due to be published this coming Tuesday (4th February) and it is my sincere hope that the article goes some way to help reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Hopefully, with such an honest bunch of people sharing their stories, we will be able to convey in a positive way that anyone can experience mental illness, and that there should be no place for discrimination.
It would be great if you would buy a copy of The Sun newspaper on Tuesday. Just by reading the feature you will be doing something significant to help counteract stigma in the UK. Another date for your diary is this coming Thursday, 6th February, which is Time To Change ‘Talk Day’. Get yourself on social media and help spread the message that it’s OK to talk about mental health!
If you’d like to connect with the people featured in the photoshoot, you can follow us all on Twitter:
Thanks for reading! Keep fighting the stigma!