Lifting the Lid on Mental Health campaign breaks down barriers

ARTIST: Photographer Alison Cosker documented the powerful series, and also shared her own mental health story. Pictures: Alison Cosker
ARTIST: Photographer Alison Cosker documented the powerful series, and also shared her own mental health story. Pictures: Alison Cosker

Two years ago, the process of capturing a portrait was seemingly “impossible” for Launceston photographer Alison Cosker. 

Now she’s using her mental health experience to shine a light on stories and stigma through a powerful campaign. 

The Lifting the Lid on Mental Health campaign has encouraged the conversation around mental health in Launceston, shedding light on its prevalence and complexity. 

The Facebook series has shared intimate and poignant stories of familiar local faces, including residents Lisa King, Jess Andrews and Richard Harmey.

Cosker, who co-founded the Lifting the Lid campaign, said her own experience helped inspire her to curate the candid series.

“About two years ago, I was in a pretty rough place in my own mental health,” the 28-year-old said.

“And then [I] managed to get out of it, with help and support and medication.”

Cosker said two years ago, when she was in the midst of a dark period, the seemingly simple actions required to assemble the series seemed unthinkable. 

“All these things that are everyday things, when I was deeply depressed individually felt impossible, let alone to do all those things in one day, and then five times a day.

“There is another side [to life].”

Cosker shared her own mental health story in a powerful post. 

“I didn’t want it to be about me … but I just wanted to eventually put myself in it and say, ‘this is a part of my life too,’” Cosker said. 

The photo series was designed to engage the community with real mental health stories in the lead up to the Lifting the Lid Mental Health Week forum. 

Cosker began asking people she knew whether they would take part in the series, and eventually people were volunteering to share.

Curating the series, Cosker would take a portrait and spend 10 or so minutes with her subject to photograph them and chat, and get them to send her a post about their mental health journey.  

“I don’t want it to be about Facebook … [but I’ve learnt] just how much connectedness and support there is,” Cosker said. 

“And how people respond when they realise someone who they had no idea had ever struggled, when they come forward and there’s just lots and lots of support.

“It’s been amazing … everyone who has shared [their story] has felt really empowered by it, including me.

“I can’t stress how much it takes off your shoulders by sharing … it’s horrifying if you can’t think about anything more than getting out of bed.”

Cosker composed the series to be “representative” of Launceston. 

“If we went forward [with the series], I would like to represent people with more acute mental illnesses.”

Launceston City Council Alderman Karina Stojansek used the platform to publicly raise awareness for the first time since her husband, Launceston Deputy Mayor Jeremy Ball, took his own life in 2014.

A simple portrait of Ms Stojansek in Civic Square was accompanied by moving words about life after her husband’s death, and the reverberating grief. 

She said the post was “a big step”, as it marked the first time she had spoken out publicly since Mr Ball’s death. 

“It's very hard to put yourself out there so publicly and it leaves you feeling very vulnerable,” she said.

“It is an uncomfortable topic, but it's something that I think is important that people start the conversation.

“Hopefully by doing that it will encourage others to seek help and talk about it."

In the post, Ms Stojansek called suicide hard to “comprehend” and “reconcile”. 

Since the post was published, Ms Stojansek said she received excellent feedback, and people had reached out to reveal their own mental health issues.

"Quite a lot of people still didn't actually know what happened with Jeremy, so that was interesting, even though I've always been very open with that," she said. 

“It's been lovely, the messages of support and so forth.”

After her husband’s death, Ms Stojansek gained insight into society’s uncomfortable attitude towards grief. 

“One thing that I've found, is even now, two years down the track, people don't know what to say to me – and I'm a very open person,” she said. 

“People just don't know whether to approach you or what to say and there's that uncomfortable sort of feeling and that's a shame, because the person that died will always be a part of your life.”

She said she felt “passionately” about raising mental health awareness since her “visionary” husband died. 

“It's about starting the conversation, [which is] exactly what this campaign is doing,” Ms Stojansek said.

“Getting people talking about it, and by featuring people's stories it makes it more real and brings it closer to home." 

Ms Stojansek said it was important resources were widely available and people knew how to access services.

She said it was particularly important to look out for loved ones in times where a stressful event could render them vulnerable. 

“I'm amazed still, even now, I'm still getting messages from people who it had a profound effect on,” Ms Stojansek said of her husband’s death. 

“As a society, one person dying to suicide is too many – the implications go on forever.” 

If you need help, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636