If you live with a mental health condition, this probably isn’t news to you — your mental health issues can also lead to physical symptoms, too. A graphic created by artist Melissa Webb perfectly captures this experience, and is a good reminder that it’s not just “all in your head.”
Webb, also known as Mellow Doodles, created an illustration to remind people of the physical symptoms of mental illness. The design reads, “I wish people know that my mental health is so physical too” alongside a woman with arrows highlighting her symptoms. Physical mental health symptoms can include headaches, jaw and teeth pain, sweating, nausea, fatigue, sensory overload, cramps, restless legs and more.
Webb created the physical symptoms graphic for the U.K. campaign Time to Change, which was set up by the charities Rethink Mental Illness and Mind to tackle stigma around mental health. Webb said she also wanted to tackle mental health stigma by showing how much of an impact mental illness can have on both your mind and body.
“The physical symptoms that mental health problems can cause are so difficult, and so wide ranging, and it felt really important for it to be addressed,” Webb told The Mighty via email, adding:
Often I think the reason mental health is not taken seriously is because people assume it’s ‘all in your head.’ In fact, it produces a whole range of symptoms like any other illness — and these physical manifestations can be just as difficult, and sometimes just as debilitating, as the internal struggles.
While we call it “mental health,” there’s a very good reason your physical health can be impacted too. Anxiety, for example, is a fear response that triggers your nervous system like you are responding to a threat. This can include sweating, tension and affect your digestive system. The neurons that help govern your mood, like serotonin, travel throughout your body — and 95% of your serotonin is made in your gut.
Mighty community member Lindsay P. explained how her mental health affects her physical symptoms in the article, “24 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Mental Illness“:
“I get really hot and start sweating when my anxiety is high,” Lindsay said. “My friend and I joke that it’s like I’m having hot flashes. However, at the time it’s happening, it’s not too funny. I also have stomach cramping and often feel like throwing up when I’m having prolonged anxiety attacks.”
Webb uses her illustrations to tackle other mental health subjects like setting boundaries, how to support others when they have a hard time, self-care ideas and colorful quotes and phrases to remind you you’re not alone. She said as an artist, visually appealing graphics with simple language is often an easier way to communicate important information when we’re stressed.
“I came to understand through personal experience that sometimes when we most need support for our mental health, picking up a word heavy or academic book that might help us can be so overwhelming,” Webb said. “My illustrations are intentionally bright and colourful so they are less daunting and more accessible. … For the people who need the work most, this is hopefully a better way to reach them.”
In the art she shares on her own platform and creates with Time to Change, Webb said she hopes to reduce the stigma and shame still associated with mental health. She also wants to help others realize that struggling with your mental health is common and you are not alone.
“So many people feel ashamed to be experiencing problems with their mental health and it’s such a shame when it is so common,” Webb said. She continued:
Often, when a conversation is started around mental health, you find that almost everyone has some sort of experience of it — whether that’s through past or current experience, or through seeing a friend or family member go through their own struggles. We are much more similar than we realise — and realising this helps build connection as well as lessen the shame around it. This is always such a positive thing for people and I hope my work can help aid that in some way.