Honest Body Project’s New Series Hopes To End Stigma Against Mental Illness

by Giovanna Boldrini
Giovanna was born in Rome, Italy and currently resides in South Salem, New York. In her free time, she likes to cook with her children and grandchildren.

Depression carries an unfair stigma  and often, what people consider “depressed” in appearance isn’t depressed at all.

Your best friend may be depressed, but you may not be able to tell from just the way she looks. Florida-based photographer Natalie McCain felt compelled to confront the stigma against mental illness in her latest addition to her Honest Body Project series: The True Faces of Depression.

While photographing mothers for the Honest Body Project, a common part of their stories is their struggle with various mental illnesses,” Natalie told LittleThings.

“I wanted to create a series that focuses on this to help show how there are so many women struggling with this and they don’t necessarily ‘look’ depressed.”

The photographer also found herself a little surprised by how deeply each woman’s story touched her: “After having my son, I struggled severely with postpartum anxiety, which I didn’t even know was possible since it is so rarely spoken about. I found bits of of my story and struggle in each woman. If we all opened up about our individual struggles, we would all relate to each other on a deeper level and be able to offer advice and support.”

See McCain’s stunning series with the real words of the women pictured below…

We’ve only featured a few photographs from Natalie McCain’s series  to see more, please visit her website.

Sometimes, depression is a part of PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder:

Sometimes, depression is a part of PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder:

“I have been suffering from PTSD since I was 19 years old,” this brave woman told the Honest Body Project. “The reason I suffer from PTSD is because I was sexually assaulted. Once at a house party when I was 19, by a ‘friend’ and again this past year, outside of a bar, by another supposed friend. This caused me to become extremely paranoid of the people around me. This led me to realize that I needed to reach out for help, since I was no longer functioning in the real world.”

“After that night I have always kept my guard up and promised myself that I would never be in a situation like that again. What helps most to cope with my depression and PTSD is writing and venting to my closest friend or my counselor. I also work out, which tires me enough to where my mind won’t race and I am able to sleep at night. Another huge struggle for me is that I self-mutilated to escape from my problems. I have been clean from self-mutilation and prescription drug use for nine months. I’ll tell you firsthand that cutting or any type of self-mutilation is harder to quit than any drug. This is because you are your own drug.”

“There is a lot of stigma against those who suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD. People may think you are crazy when you suffer from PTSD. Some say you’re just a negative person. Or some may think you are suicidal if you self-mutilate. Lots of people think that cutters are attention-seeking. If someone is seeking attention by mutilating their own body, then that attention is much needed. No one who self-mutilates is proud of what they do, or did. It is most likely a cry for help.”

Other times, depression comes right after giving birth:

Other times, depression comes right after giving birth:

Many women described their struggle with postpartum depression, or PPD, to Natalie McCain: “My first child was born at 36 weeks and I went on bedrest about 27 weeks. My pregnancy was a very difficult and uncomfortable time for me. I didn’t have that pregnancy glow or that feeling that women say that they have when they’re pregnant, that they’re just so elated. I can truly say that I just didn’t enjoy being pregnant. So after my son was born, I tried the new normal mom things of adjusting to a new baby and just felt like I couldn’t get everything under control. I went back to work when he was 6 weeks old, and I cried the whole way to work (which is very unusual for me). I think that was the beginning of me being truly depressed.”

“I kind of went through a fog for the next several months, I couldn’t get my performance at work to be as good as it was in the past and felt like I was just struggling to get through the day. But I figured it was just part of being a new mom… I started noticing that as I would get ready for work that my heart would start racing, I couldn’t breathe, I would start to feel sick and as I was driving to work I would have these panic attacks… I was constantly missing work because I just couldn’t get myself together. Finally one day as I was getting ready for work, my husband happen to be home and walked in on me a while I was having a major panic attack. He told me that it wasn’t normal to be feeling this way and encourage me to see if I can find help somewhere.”



the past and felt like I was just struggling to get through the day. But I figured it was just part of being a new mom. 

In addition to trying many different kinds and combinations of medications, she took a leave of absence from work and focused on relearning how to live. “I learned how to pray and meditate that way when I feel overwhelmed or when I feel like I’m starting to slip back, I can stop and focus on what’s important and know that I am bigger than my depression. It’s doesn’t control me anyone. I am no longer a slave to the darkness.”

This PPD mom couldn't understand her depression — she felt that she was supposed to be happy!

This PPD mom couldn't understand her depression — she felt that she was supposed to be happy!

As Natalie McCain wrote in the introduction to her latest installation of The Honest Body Project, depression doesn’t always look sad. “My child-free life of 36 years had just changed drastically and forever. This baby girl was everything I had prayed for. Surely everyone worried and had sadness. But this worry and sadness quickly consumed my life.”

“Those early days, I maybe slept a few minutes at a time. Sleep deprivation was getting worse. I didn’t eat. I finally broke down and bought Ensure for some nutrition. I shook all the time. It was Florida summer and I shook and dressed in multiple layers and under blankets. I couldn’t sleep. I had to hold my baby and bond with my baby.”

After months of suffering in silence, she broke down and revealed her depression and anxiety to her husband. “I hate the stigma of PPD and anxiety. I felt like a failure having to seek help. It was embarrassing. I now know it was nothing I did. Seeking help saved my relationship with my daughter. She is one of the best things to ever happen to me and I love every moment with her. To anyone struggling, please talk to someone professionally. Even if it’s not medication, therapy is an amazing tool as well.”

There is no such thing as 'regular' depression...

There is no such thing as 'regular' depression...

“During pregnancy I surprisingly did not have any feelings of depression. It wasn’t until postpartum that it really hit. Since I already suffered from depression there was a very good chance I would get PPD. I tried to write off the tiredness and moodiness as fluctuating hormones, which is normal. It wasn’t until I started having trouble even functioning in daily life that I knew I needed help.”

She’s been able to manage her depression, but she cautions people from believing that they’re all better when the clouds break: “There are still bad days. There are still days I break down crying at work. Depression doesn’t just go away. It’s something you manage and deal with.”

We only featured a few of the powerful stories that McCain photographed in her series  to see more, please visit The Honest Body Project: The True Faces of Depression. Women who suffer from mental illness face both personal and societal challenges. Not only do they have to deal with symptoms and disabilities that result from mental illness, but they also face prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives.

Please SHARE Natalie McCain’s powerful Honest Body Project to end the stigma against all forms of depression and mental illness.