My finger was my biggest tool: Artist draws on her mental health history to inspire others

By Davina Fenton and Natalia Jorquera

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, ITV News is highlighting issues or conditions often under-represented in terms of awareness as well as looking at positive and therapeutic initiatives helping people with their mental health recovery.

For all too many people mental health is a subject they feel uncomfortable talking about, be it stigma, embarrassment or lack of understanding, it's often a conversation many shy away from.

Artist Kirsty Latoya would like to see that change and uses mental health as a central theme in some of her work to both discourage stigma and encourage open dialogue, particularly within the black community.

The 25-year-old, from south London, draws on her own personal experience, when creating digital illustrations on her iPad using her finger as a stylus, having first experienced depression since she was just 13.

At the time she felt unable to share how she was feeling with her family and friends or seek help.

Kirsty told ITV News: "I felt like I couldn't speak to anybody. My friends weren't going through the same thing, I couldn't speak to my family, so I just internalised it."

She also admitted she had been "apprehensive and fearful of being judged".

"I think the reluctance to talk about mental health in black and asian communities stems from the fact that in those communities mental health is not recognised as an actual illness," Kirsty said.

"Sometimes it's brushed off as having a bad day, or you just have the blues," she added.

"That's a mentality that continues. Sometimes the older generations just don't understand that this is real and this is happening to your people."

The artist's work is aimed at shedding mental health stigma. Credit: Kirzart

The first time Kirsty actually got help was in her last year of university when her campus offered free counselling.

The counselling had a positive effect leaving the young student more optimistic about life.

"For the first time I actually started to love myself and it had taken so many years," Kirsty said.

This self-portrait depicts the mask Kirsty felt she was hiding behind in front of family and friends. Credit: Kirzart

She also felt encouraged to finally open up to some of her friends about her depression.

But in 2016, Kirsty experienced a relapse after her mother passed away.

Describing how she felt at the time, Kirsty said: "All the hard work of getting myself up to this positive just disappeared."

Kirsty spiralled into deep depression after the death of her mother. Credit: Kirsty Latoya

"I just felt like I was in a really black hole and I was just continually falling.

And no matter what would happen nothing could bring me up. It was a really, really dark place."

Kirsty channelled feelings of being submerged in sadness in this piece. Credit: Kirzart
  • "I wasn't depressed when I was drawing"

Kirsty didn't seek any professional help because she wasn't ready to talk about what she had been through. Instead art became her therapy.

"I wanted to do something positive to help me focus my mind. I wasn't depressed when I was drawing and that's what I loved."

"I was able to channel my depressive thoughts and my sad feelings through my art and my finger was my biggest tool.

"Drawing on my iPad was just so therapeutic. I could do it anywhere so no matter where I was I could have my art therapy."

Since then Kirsty has gone from strength to strength.

She now feels confident to express how she is feeling and has also used art with poetry to convey her thoughts.

Time-lapsed video of Kirsty's art and poetry piece Letter to my Friends

Kirsty said her piece Letter to my Friends came about because she wanted to explain how "I'd been feeling this whole time".

The artist found the positive reaction it got on social media overwhelming.

"It was really touching to know that my art and poetry was helping other people."

The Londoner thinks educating people more about mental health and creating more awareness of it will enable people to understand it properly "rather than judging it and seeing something that its not."

When asked what advice she would give to people to help improve their mental health and well-being, Kirsty said:

"I would definitely encourage creative activities to deal with mental health or even just activities that can keep you occupied, busy and happy."

Kirsty says she has found her purpose and is finally 'thriving'.

"Expressing yourself through creativity opens the door and you can do anything, you can get your feelings out and that's what I love about it.

"I feel like before I was surviving day to day, I felt like I had no purpose, I was only getting up because I had to."

"Now that I've found I guess, my purpose in life to do art and inspire others, I feel like I'm finally thriving."

"There's always down days and good days but generally I'm so much better than I was this time last year and I would say that I'm a lot happier now," she added.

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