As part of our in-depth look at the effects of mental illness on illustrators, English illustrator Sydney Lovell opens up about her experiences.

Tell us a bit about your experience with mental health and/or addiction.

"I've suffered with my mental health as far back as I can remember, which I've since learnt is due to the amount of trauma I went through with domestic abuse, bullying, and bereavement. Because it had been going on for so long and I was so young and didn't have the appropriate language to explain my experiences.

"It wasn't until a suicide attempt in my mid 20s that I was finally diagnosed with C-PTSD and bipolar disorder with psychosis, and by that point it was such a relief to hear that diagnosis as it confirmed that what I was going through wasn't normal and I could begin to learn to live my life again. The hardest thing to come to terms with was how much of my life I'd lost to my illness as I felt I'd missed out on my entire youth, which is why I really encourage anyone to speak up as soon as possible if they feel things aren't right."

How have these experiences stemmed from, or been tied to, the life of being a freelance illustrator?

"My experiences haven't stemmed from it, but it definitely feeds in to it. I had a few years of paranoia and anxiety where I was too scared to leave my home, and being a freelance illustrator it was very easy to hide myself away. Also having such low self esteem caused by my illness has really held me back from opportunities, as it's difficult to put myself out there and network, and feelings of perfectionism have also held back my work and made it very difficult to create anything if it can't be my idea of perfect.

"These are definitely things I'm still trying to work on. However my illustration work has also helped my mental health an awful lot as the process of drawing and creating is very grounding and meditative to me, so being able to work in this field has definitely had it's benefits."

Where, who, or what organisation did you go to for support?

"The NHS, as unfortunately any paid for treatment is unaffordable to me. Such limited resources definitely makes it much harder to seek treatment and support, as it can depend so much on where you live as to what's available."

What did you find helped your situation?

"Receiving a diagnosis was a huge help, as it helped me to recognise what was me and what was symptoms, and some things were symptoms that I would never have realised without professional support. This helped me to realise what I needed to work on and put strategies in place to help me.

"I think there needs to be much less stigma around medication and therapies as for more severe conditions it's needed and there's no shame in that. It's also helped my family to be more supportive as they understand what I'm going through.

"I also do as much as I can for myself, like recognising my triggers and working on how to cope with them better, going outside regularly even if I don't really need to, keeping a journal, and most importantly keeping myself to a set schedule."

What advice would you have for a fellow creative who may be experiencing mental health issues?

"Speak up. Asking for help requires so much self advocacy which isn't always possible when you're struggling, but it really is so very important to seek professional help. Also ensure that you're taking care of yourself, little things like going for walks, getting up early, and keeping a journal to record your feelings."

Sydney is part of a group of illustrators – Ben O’Brien (aka Ben the Illustrator), Tobias HallJamie LawsonJimi MacKaySharmelan MurugiahFranklin O'TooleCharlene Chua and Elle Jackson – who’ve shared their stories during Mental Health Awareness Week, with the purpose of providing insight and encouragement to someone who may be unsure on how to deal with their own mental health issues.

If you're experiencing feelings of mental illness, here are a few links to helplines and charities:

Mind – UK mental health charity that provides urgent help, advice on treatment, and sources of support
Mental health helplines suggested by the NHS – including Depression alliance, Men’s Health charity and OCD UK
Samaritans – A 24/7 helpline and charity providing emotional support for those experiencing suicidal thoughts, struggling to cope or in distress 
Rethink – UK mental health charity providing information and services for anyone affected by mental illness 
Anxiety UK – charity for people with anxiety. Many on our staff and volunteer team have personal experiences of anxiety
Bipolar UK – charity for people bipolar, their families and their carers