This Creepy Illustration Series Is Starting Mental Health Conversations

For many artists, this month was Inktober, a time step away from graphic tablets and software and develop a daily habit of literally putting pen to page. Artist Shawn Coss, whose background work can be seen on the Cyanide and Happiness Show, has spent the month illustrating mental health issues in his signature dark style.

Coss’s mental health illustrations are dark and disturbing (as is most of his work), but they come from a place of love. As he explained on Facebook and to BuzzFeed earlier this month, he wants to shine a light on mental health issues that may be poorly understood — and he does his research, looking into symptoms and personal experiences before creating his pieces.

These pieces have sparked controversy, as some viewers see them as stigmatizing, insensitive or inaccurate (many also question his choice to incorrectly label autism spectrum disorder as a mental illness). Others recognize their own symptoms in Coss’s illustrations and appreciate the opportunity to see their own issues depicted in a way that doesn’t minimize their severity and impact.

For some people, it can be helpful to imagine negative feelings or unwanted symptoms as monsters. That’s something we addressed in our August Habitica challenge, which pointed out that moving our feelings outside of ourselves can make it easier to solve our problems head-on. Just don’t forget that mental health issues don’t make you monstrous, no matter how challenging they might be.

If you’d like to see if Coss has illustrated a particular issue you’ve dealt with, you can check out his full collection of Inktober illustrations on his website. He plans to compile them into a book at the end of the month, which he intends to sell with proceeds going to a local mental health organization.

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