Edmonton artist who battles depression uses camera to put a face to mental illness

Click to play video: 'Edmonton photographer turns camera to depression to expose its impact' Edmonton photographer turns camera to depression to expose its impact
WATCH ABOVE: A local photographer is turning her lens on a subject she feels needs to be in the spotlight. As Su-Ling Goh reports, she's focusing on the faces of mental illness with a cool exhibit that's being sponsored by the Canadian Mental Health Association – Apr 12, 2016

EDMONTON — An Edmonton photographer who has battled anxiety and depression since she was a child is making it her mission to expose the face of mental illness, in hopes of helping others who may not feel they can be helped.

Blake Loates was eight years old when she first felt the impact of her depression. Her symptoms got particularly bad when she was about 13.

“I didn’t leave my bedroom for two months. I was having a lot of distorted thinking, sleeping all the time, panic attacks,” she explained.

It didn’t take long for her mother, who also battled depression, to recognize the symptoms. And while Loates knows her mother’s words came from a place of love, she didn’t exactly get the reaction she expected.

“She leaned over and she said, ‘you know, you can’t ever tell anyone about this because people just don’t understand,'” she said.

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It was at that very moment Loates knew she couldn’t remain silent. She didn’t put this burden on herself and never understood why she should keep her struggles to herself.

Since then, Loates, now 35, has been very vocal with her ongoing struggles with mental illness.

She became a psychiatric nurse in hopes of helping others but found it difficult because she wasn’t allowed to share her own stories with her patients.

Now a photographer, she’s using her camera to put a face to mental illness through a project called “We All Believe in You.

“From the moment I picked up a camera I wanted to tell people’s stories,” Loates said. “This project has given me a new avenue and a new voice in a way to help people by sharing my story.”

All of Loates’ subjects have a story of their own too.

Ret. RCMP Staff Sgt. Ron Campbell, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, was getting his picture taken Tuesday. He spent most of his years as a homicide detective and crisis negotiator, and in 2004, Campbell watched as a gunman killed his friend Cpl. Jim Galloway.

It was that summer when Campbell’s wife began to notice a change in his behaviour. The once happy go-lucky, chatty guy suddenly became withdrawn and quick to anger.

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A few months later, Campbell’s ex-partner approached the change in demeanor head-on.

“She asked me, ‘How are you really doing?'” he said.

“The air went out of me. I didn’t know what to do with that. I just knew in that moment I was busted, that I wasn’t kidding anybody but myself.”

Three weeks later, Campbell made an appointment with a psychologist and began the long road to recovery.

He’s since become an advocate for those who suffer in silence in hopes of removing the stigma around mental illness.

“I’ve gotten to a place where I can speak to people in a very real, raw way and with understanding,” Campbell said. “We have people who are suffering every day and they need our help not our judgement.

“I’m able to help people in a different way that I never imagined – that has such a profound effect, not just on them, but on me as well. It’s very powerful when you can help someone make a life-changing decision.”

Campbell was happy to take part in Loates’ project. “We All Believe in You” will be on display during Mental Health Awareness Week in May.

“I’ve heard some pretty amazing stories and I think the biggest lesson I’ve gotten from all of these stories is how resilient people are,” Loates said. “I just want everyone to feel that hope with this project that they can make it through just one more step.”

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