Sonaksha Iyengar Creates Illustrated Series to Bust Misconceptions About Mental Illness

Describing what it’s like to live with mental illness can be hard, so instead, Sonaksha Iyengar is illustrating it.

“Sometimes words can be hard to describe the chaos that the brain feels like – whether it is a bundle of emotions or a mental disorder,” Iyengar told The Mighty. “After having numerous conversations with friends about the stigma associated with it and facing difficulties with the way people approach the subject myself, I really wanted to create something tangible to start a conversation.”

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has become so widely known that it is regularly a part of jokes (No, that is not okay). While it is good that people are aware about it, it is unfair to claim to have OCD when you don’t. Everyone who loves cleanliness does not have OCD. OCD is characterised by recurring thoughts and actions and please don’t tell them to ‘relax’. What is very important to understand is that these are uncontrollable and cause a great deal of anxiety. While excessive cleaning, aggressive thoughts and compulsive counting are the most common manifestations, please don’t self diagnose. People who live with OCD everyday spend a significant amount of their day thinking about these compulsions or performing them, not by choice, and it can get exhausting to say the least. #atozofmentalhealth – – – – – #365daysofart #drawingaday #36daysoftype @36daysoftype #36days_O #36daysoftype04 #mentalhealth #art #typography #lettering #ocd #anxiety #tired #obsessivecompulsivedisorder #watercolor #igart #sketchbook #digitalart #illustration #selflove #care #endthestigma #brain #mentalhealthawareness #panic #huffpostarts

A post shared by Sonaksha Iyengar (@sonaksha) on

Iyengar’s desire to create something tangible became the “a to z of mental health,” a series of illustrations the 22-year-old artist shares on Instagram. The A to Z format is part of the 36 Days of Type challenge, an Instagram-based challenge which invites illustrators and designers to express their views on letters and numbers in the alphabet.  “The alphabet is one of the first things we are taught in schools, so I think it is just as important to learn about mental health, hence the format,” she said. 



In the two weeks since Iyengar started posting, the Bengaluru, India based artist has created 16 illustrations, and is currently up to the letter “P.” So far, Iyengar has covered anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, kleptomania, mood disorders, eating disorders and grief.

“I wish people understood that mental illnesses do not come with a clock. You can’t have a time stamp and say this is when it is going to end,” she said. “Some of these illnesses are chronic, and it is important [for people] to know that even if they spend all their life battling with it, we should give them the space to do so and help by being kinder.”

As part of her process, Iyengar, who lives with a mental illness herself, researches each condition – visiting forums and other discussion boards to identify myths and see what aspects of each condition people have a hard time explaining. “It is really disheartening to see people make assumptions about mental health, illnesses and disorders. We hear things like, ‘Get over it,’ ‘Stop asking for attention,’ ‘Liars,’ ‘It’s just a phase,’ all the time and it is really unfair to make such statements that are so hurtful to anyone having a hard time with the chaos in their head,” she explained. “Awareness will help us make a start in the right direction towards kindness and empathy. So with the series, I hope to address mental health using a combination of mental disorders and illnesses with emotions that a lot of us perhaps feel in varying intensities.”



While Iyengar hopes to shed light on as many mental illnesses as possible, she knows she won’t be able to cover them all as part of her A to Z format. After the series is over, she said, she hopes to continue illustrating misconceptions, covering conditions that might not have made the first cut.

“I definitely plan on continuing to work on this beyond the Z and highlight as many as possible,” she added. “I’m taking into consideration all the suggestions I’m getting and hoping to work on them.”

In addition to suggestions regarding which mental illnesses to illustrate, Iyengar said she’s received a lot of messages from people who’ve identified with her work.

“I’m truly moved by the kind of responses people have had so far,” she said “People have sent in direct messages sharing their stories and telling me how touched they are that I was able to highlight aspects of their illness that no one understood. That for me is the best possible outcome… I feel so much pain to hear these stories and struggles but also hope that we are able to share it through art and find relief.”

You can see more of Iyengar’s “a to z of mental health series,” on Instagram

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Mental Health

silhouette of person enjoying beautiful sunset with view of ocean

7 Reasons People With Mental Illnesses Are Strong AF

If you struggle with mental illness, you may have heard the following comment before. People will tell you that your mental illness is a choice. You are choosing to feel sad. You need to just relax and lighten up. Fighting a mental illness is hard work, and it takes strength. Here are just some of [...]
Business men standing on ladders. Text reads: 12 things people who don't work because of mental illness wish others understood

12 Things People Who Don't Work Because of Mental Illness Wish Others Understood

While many people who live with a mental illness are able to manage their condition while working full-time, like any unpredictable health condition, sometimes you just can’t. And whether you need to go on a short-term work leave or stop working entirely, there’s a lot of shame associated with not working because of a mental [...]
logos for social media platforms

Living With Mental Illness on Social Media

What if we all told the truth? The truth to the question that Facebook asks you when you open up your page. What’s on your mind? The truth to the question that Twitter asks you when you tweet. What’s happening? How many times have you started to write something, only to delete it before you [...]
A small figure standing in the words with a balloon floating in the air

How Mental Illness Brought Out the Survivor in Me

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here. It was not the sudden departure of my soul that killed me. It was the tearing out [...]