In Photos: What Depression Looks Like
All photos by the author
Content warning: Mental health, Suicide

I had symptoms of depression since I was 12 years old and was finally diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder in 2019. What Depression Looks Like is a series of images made as I battled the worst of my illness.

Much of living with depression is about waiting—waiting months for appointments with disinterested psychiatrists, appointments that rarely last longer than ten minutes; waiting for boxes of medication in overcrowded hospital pharmacies that smell of antiseptic and sweat; waiting for your brand new antidepressants to start working again; waiting in bed, unshowered and exhausted, waiting for the depressive episode to pass; waiting for death; waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting.

This photo series was formed during those moments of waiting. Depression is notorious for diminishing energy and interest in things that a person previously enjoyed.

While my primary artistic medium of choice has always been writing, depression reduced my ability to enjoy what I loved most in the world. It was in those moments—when I wanted to write most but couldn’t—that I turned to the camera, which allowed me to speak without words. 

Using a combination of film and digital photography, I captured the daily experience of living with this debilitating illness without romanticisation or restriction.

Depression is ugly and painful and raw. Depression is being unable to get out of bed for hours and days at a time. Depression is finding it hard to shampoo your hair and then sinking to the bathroom floor in tears. Depression is numb. It is lonely. It is ruthless. It is being afraid of being alone, knowing that you have the capacity to hurt yourself.

It is October 2022 as I write this—I have been diagnosed for more than three years now. While I would say I survived the worst of my illness, it is something I continue to carry with me today.

I attempted suicide in February 2020, and I still don’t know if I’m grateful that I survived. I still take the same antidepressants, and the dosage increases every few months. My depressive symptoms will never completely go away, but I have learned how to co-exist with them.

I don’t know who I was before this sickness. I will never know who I could have been without it.

Despite it all, art has saved me countless times and continues to save me. Creating this project saved me during one of the darkest periods of my life.

I hope that it helps other sufferers of depression, too.

This was a letter that I was given in 2019, which diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder. The diagnosis was a relief; it allowed me to name and define what I was going through and find a solution.

I was a Secondary Three student in 2019 and often brought my film camera to school. This photo was taken in the school bathroom. I would often go to the toilets to take breaks, and at times, I’d miss classes because of my panic attacks.

This was taken in a public toilet, a place I would often escape to when I felt overwhelmed outdoors.

At the tail end of 2019, I was admitted to the hospital for severe suicidal ideation. I truly believed I was going to die that night.

This photo was taken the morning I returned home. In it, I’m still wearing the wristbands given to me at the hospital.

I started taking fluoxetine (also known as Prozac) after I was admitted to the hospital for suicidal thoughts. I’ve been very lucky because I haven’t had any major side effects from the medication, apart from headaches at the start.

I truly and firmly believe that medication saved my life. Without it, I would not be alive today. I am grateful for living in a place where antidepressants are cheap and accessible.

People often underestimate the physical impact of depression. For me, depression often manifests in hair loss. Every time I brushed my hair and saw clumps of hair gather at my feet, I felt as if my body was wilting more and more as every day passed.

Small victories—on this night, I was able to get out of bed, shower, and brush my hair.

There were days—and there are still days—when I don’t have the energy to get up from bed. I took this self-portrait during one of those days.

In this picture, I’m sitting in a parking lot right after school. Secondary school was one of the loneliest times of my life. Having depression added to that pervasive sense of grief and isolation.


More waiting.

Helplines in Singapore
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) Crisis Helpline: 1-767
Institute of Mental Health Helpline: 6389 2222
National Care Hotline: 1800 202 6868
Singapore Association of Mental Health (Toll-Free Counselling Hotline): 1800 283 7019
ec2 online counselling
CHAT—Centre of Excellence for Youth Mental Health in Singapore:
Shine Children and Youth Services’ ResiL!ence
Care Corner Insight
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