The Mighty Logo

Sonaksha Iyengar Creates Illustrated Series to Bust Misconceptions About Mental Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

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

Originally published: March 9, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home