THE DEFINE PROJECT
The DEFINE project is a collaboration between a photographer, a clothing company, and a textiles designer who all have one thing in common - They want to end the stigma and start the conversation around mental health by showing a raw and personal side to the struggles of real people. Role Models were cast from across Eastern Canada; from Toronto to Fredericton to Halifax. From over 200 submissions we narrowed it down to one brave person to represent each of the nine categories. Watch the video above to learn more about each Role Model’s story, and how it shaped the conceptual representation of their illnesses seen below.
Emma Elliott has been struggling with her mental health since the age of 8. Battling with anxiety and depression became crippling to her and she turned to self-harm to cope with the complex emotions she was feeling. Self-harm became addicting as she also turned to other addicting substances, like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Today she describes herself as happy and healthy but still struggles with battling her mental illnesses everyday.
Lee Thomas is a mental health advocate who is diagnosed with ADHD, as well as social anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder. Growing up in a small town in northern Alberta, mental illness was highly stigmatized and rarely talked about. This was her inspiration to become a speaker on mental health. Today she travels from school to school to share her personal story and help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.
At the age of ten years old, Kathleen Varty was diagnosed with a phobia, which later led to Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Because of this, she missed out on a lot of activities and would often refuse to go to school. Five years later, with help from her loved ones and psychologist, she is doing much better. Kathleen wants to fight the stereotypical image of a shy girl who stands alone in the corner, as anxiety is different for every individual.
Jessica grew up surrounded by mental health struggles, as her family has a long history of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and addictions. Jessica herself was recently diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and as her doctor put it, it was only a matter of time before she also “caught it.” This choice of words made Jessica feel both anger and relief that her illness was not completely within her control.
Chelsea McBride found herself with what any twenty-something may hope for: a strong relationship, close friends, and success in both her career and her academics. However, she also found herself suicidal and depressed. In the span of two days she visited three different emergency rooms and was diagnosed with Bipolar type II. Today she balances this along with her anxiety, as well as perusing her artistic passion as a freelance musician.
Emma Davis spent most of her childhood working under extreme pressure as a competitive gymnast and athlete while maintaining her straight A grades. As she entered high school, the pressure of being popular weighed heavily on Emma and she began to feel like nothing she did was enough. After a long period of sleeping difficulties and suicidal thoughts she was brought to the emergency room and got diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.
Five years ago Carlena Munn was diagnosed with both Complex PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder. Her diagnoses are the result of multiple traumas suffered throughout her childhood, which were triggered later in her adult life. Due to her illnesses, she has made many sacrifices including losing a very successful career. Although she says her recovery has been slow, she is working hard to turn this into one of her many of her new successes.
Danika Lopez is a dedicated student, an animal lover and a devoted friend. Throughout her childhood she experienced many obstacles that greatly affected her mental health, including physical abuse from a family member and her parents divorce. Being caught in the middle of a custody battle, she began having suicidal thoughts and to cope turned to self-injuring. This lead to a severe depression which she still deals with today.
Cassandra Carr is a mental health positive 18 year old from Fredericton NB. Since a very young age she suffered from anxiety but admits that it became a heightened struggle when she reached high school. During this time she turned to self-injury as a way to cope with her anxiety, as well as depression. After a few years of struggling she realized that she needed to reach out to someone. “I was tired of living at my door step watching life go by” Cassie says.