This Is What Mental Illness Actually Looks Like

8 Apr

Anne Betton

Photographer Anne Betton, 37, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2009. After an arts-focused education, she had moved on to a career in business communication—but a breakdown caused her to cycle between mania and depression for several years, including stints in psychiatric hospitals.

Stabilized since 2012, Betton has moved on to a second career in the arts, and now she’s focusing on portraying the journeys of others who, like her, have battled with mental illness.
Betton decided to commit to the cause after deep reflection on mental illness, its meaning, and the place of the mentally ill in society. Her photography collection, “Putting A Face on Mental Illness,” illustrates the humanity of mentally ill people—making them subjects, not objects of derision, scorn and misunderstanding. In her portraits, which she takes in the homes of her subjects, she seeks to draw them out in conversation and “reflect the soul” of each person in their portraits. A selection of her works was recently exhibited in an art gallery in Paris, to an enthusiastic local reception.

Betton’s project seeks to destigmatize mental illness, and portray it as only one facet of the complex humanity of her subjects, who suffer from an array of mental illnesses including major depression, schizophrenia and bipolarity. In a statement about her project, she writes about her motivations to create portraits of mentally ill subjects:

Because we are part of your family, your neighbors, your colleagues, and we dare not reveal ourselves for fear of being stigmatized. Because diseases such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, chronic depression, psychoses are little known or poorly known … Because the media, especially the “trash journalism” which aims to sell and not to inform, and most police series, want you to believe that we can be often aggressive or dangerous … We decided to come forward and show our features. STOP the isolation we create or we suffer… Open the doors and take the time to find us … We have a lot to offer you, whose sincerity and sensitivity often are beautiful …

Below are some of her most evocative portraits. Under each portrait is the subject’s age, their job and a quotation of their choice; Betton does not specify the illnesses they suffer, preferring to allow each subject to choose how much they incorporate their illness into their identity.

Find more of Betton’s work at her official site.

  • 1


    Anne Betton

    38 years old. Baccalaureate in technology. In a relationship, 2 children. Currently preparing for exams to be a child care assistant.

    “My love for my children is bigger than my suffering” -Abla Farhoud

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    Anne Betton

    57, lives with his partner. Was a jewellery designer.

    “If I came to lose you, I might not have the courage to kill myself physically, but mentally I would be reduced to nothing.” – Zirocks

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    Anne Betton

    38, had started medical studies which had to be interrupted due to the symptoms of his illness. Redirected himself and earned a double degree. Currently working.

    “Health changes, illness doesn’t change” -Charles du Bos

  • 4


    Anne Betton

    47, married, 3 children. Registered childcare assistant.

    “Beneath my nonchalant indifference are hidden all my wounds. I have tamed them to better hide them. Down my cheeks roll invisible tears, even if my eyes are no longer wet”.

  • 5


    Anne Betton

    43, married.
    Chef at Fourneaux Marthe & Matthieu, which catered the opening night of the exhibition in Paris.

    “Sorrow is shouldered alone, but joy must be shared” -Elbert Hubbard

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    Anne Betton

    34, professor of French for Speakers of Other Languages.

    “No man ever steps in the same river twice” -Heraclitus

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    Anne Betton

    46, Argentinian, fine arts graduate from Buenos Aires. Visual artist. Father of two.

    “An artist must exhibit, but he must also expose to impose and if necessary explode” – Nicolas Schöffer

    “Great artists have no country” – Alfred de Musset

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    Anne Betton

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    Anne Betton

    33, studied applied arts, in a relationship.

    Artist and musician.

    “A divine justice exists”

  • 10


    Anne Betton

    52, married, 2 children. In office.

    “Live the present moment completely, without projecting to the future”

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    Anne Betton

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    MÉLI à nouveau

    Anne Betton

    21, has recently moved. Passionate about animals. Currently actively looking for work. In a relationship.

    “To be or not to be: that is the question” – William Shakespeare

  • 13


    Anne Betton

    27, Masters from the Sorbonne.

    Although she is stable, the cognitive disorder that resurfaces is an impediment to her career. She is starting to assist Anne Betton in several jobs as a volunteer as well.

  • 14


    Anne Betton

    “Involuntary retirement for services rendered”

A version of this post appeared on HuffPost France, written by Annabel Benhaiem.