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How to pet the Hydra?

Methods of Inquiry The Divine Disease: Exploration of Depression

2012 Lisa Lorenz Manchester Metropolitan University


© Lisa Lorenz Manchester 2012 All sources used can be found in the appendix. All images used are either property of the author if other specified in the appendix. For further information on topic or content please contact the author: or


‘One in four will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year.’ This statement by the Mental Health Foundation is quite scary and it took me some time to digest this. Basically the field covering mental health and depression is connected with so many different branches that it was almost urgent for my research to get focussed at an early point. First of all I got interested in this topic as my father got diagnosed in early spring 2011 with depression. Basically we, me and my family, were not able to help my father. It was hard to understand what he was going through. It was on us to get into the subject. There is an incredible number of self-help books available on the market but still I feel like the approach by these books is hard to integrate into everyday life.



Within my research so far I was approaching ‘depression’ from the perspective of everyday life, such as music, space and talking, to get a more personal and honest insight. Even though I don’t want to focus my research on artists suffering from depression analysing music and lyrics of bands like Joy Division, The Smiths and Casper was a helpful access to the subject. [Petting the Hydra ]1 As the life of artists suffering from depression is more present in pop culture than, of course, the life of an average citizen these case studies are available to everyone. Through music, writing and art people may find a way to express their heart and soul to the public. In the case of musicians, people listen. I don’t want to go too far and say they understand but this honest and very personal storytelling is much more accessible to a person who has never dealt with or been involved with depression, loneliness and isolation. What these artists share is a sense of hopelessness, deep melancholy and isolation from the outside. Darkness, night, sleep and space are often topic or essential emotional part of the music. Also, no other form of art is able to build a bubble around oneself like music does. One can plunge into the music like it was a deep lake of thoughts, of tears, of worries, of happiness. Music is able to transport a message on the international way of notes and the more limited way of language. Within this method, music and sound, feelings and emotions can be transported to a recipient that cannot be transmitted trough simple words. Therefore sound will be useful for subsequent stages of my project as I have a interactive installation playing with space and sound in mind for my third stage.


In order to get a better feeling for the words I decided to play with the quotes and lyrics I found surrounding the subject depression and music. An ever-present image was the bed and sleep, insomnia, lethargy and darkness so after playing with the connection and disconnection of a portrait of the father or mother of the quote with the illustrated typography a series of five motives evolved.



Even though was feeling quite confident in the topic after having read contemporary newspaper and magazine articles on depression to absorb how the public perceives the topic I still felt like I am missing out on getting to know the core of my question – how do people suffering from the illness think about it? Do they feel there is already enough support and integration from the public? Do they feel integrated in society? How would they try to explain how it feels like to be clinically depressed to a person not affected? I was searching the internet for local support groups in Manchester and found the Zion Centre located in the heart of Hulme. The centre offers assistance in everyday life questions, in hard times but also is providing activity groups like gardening, music and dance clubs as well as counselling. My plan was to go there and talk to a counsellor to find out more about the questions I have and tell them about my project so I could maybe get in touch with patients. As it turned out, the organization has to be a hundred percent discrete and no one working there is allowed to tell a stranger like me, even though I approach them with the best intentions, anything about their experience or cases. After my visit I noted down my thoughts in my online blog. [Petting the Hydra]2 As the counsellor at Zion Centre suggested I continued my via an anonymous internet survey, browsing through and interacting with people in internet forums in order to find out more about their experiences, their feelings. Nevertheless, now more than ever, I did not want to give up the idea of interacting face to face and learning directly from people suffering from depression. Especially as this rejection was so discouraging I felt the need for a communication tool for a better interaction even more.



Basically I was trying to find helpful forums located in the U.S, Britain or German speaking countries to narrow down the vast available resources but also focus on the two countries I mostly feel attached and connected. Moreover through the history of social and technological evolution in the past in every field one could witness an outspread of the advantages but also problems that evolved in these countries to other societies and continents after a time. As I explained earlier, the topic ‘bed’ and ‘sleep’ turned out to be a mayor subject and issue for depression and patients. So I lay an eye on this while browsing through the depths of the internet forums. An advantage of the forums is definitely that one can also examine how people interact and help each other. According to my findings sometimes just talking and being listened to is helping people a lot. Having a heart to heart talk, getting it off one’s chest – obviously this is what forums are for but seeing this process in my research context was an important step for my thought process concerning my stage three project. [Petting the Hydra]3



ONLINE Even though it was helpful to look at this communication tool I still did have some questions of my own I wanted to be answered. I tried to post questions in the forum but I had the feeling the forum is a channel of slow interaction. Social networks are a much more effective and much faster tool for communication where I could also reach people that may suffer from depression. As my main goal is to get people who are maybe not very much affected and relatives more connected with the topic a broader audience is much more effective for my research. I decided to set up a questionnaire with questions that I thought will be most helpful for getting a better overview on how people deal with subject but also to get some inspiration and opinions to work with in visuals. [Petting the Hydra]4 Within the survey I tried to avoid the stigmatised word ‘depression’ and instead used the term ‘sadness’ or ‘unhappiness’ to get a more honest answer from the participants. [Petting the Hydra ]5 Some of the questions are for example: Would you consider yourself a rather happy or sad person? How are you feeling right now? Describe a situation which made you feel very anxious. Do you know somebody suffering from depression? Do you talk about it with this person? Which song makes you feel very sad? Please describe the environment you would feel most safe and happy in.


OFFLINE Also I tried the tool of an interactive poster I exhibited on a door of our studio space at university. After time it should be filled with thoughts and ideas of people passing by. Through this I did test out if people are interested in participating in a public space and are open enough to share their feelings about depression while probably being watched while actually doing it. The poster is bright yellow and is asking: ‘What is your depression?’ To encourage the possible participants I already noted down some statements I found via my browse through the internet forums like: a black dog, a dark cloud etc. The participation was not too enthusiastic which could possibly be due to the location as not too many people pass the spot. But due to the poster I got approached by people in person who were eager to share their experience with me in person or wanted to share some information they found in the newspaper, flyers or the internet. So in the end the poster was not a tool for generating information about what depression is but a catalyst for my research: I found two people from university happy to help me as interview partners and a flyer which led me to a talk evening in Didsbury where there was a presentation of a local help service for people suffering from mental disorder.



Getting the flyer for the talk evening at a Costa CafĂŠ in Didsbury was a great promoter for my research. Actually talking face to face with people involved in the topic gave me comfort that I am doing the right thing and also am on the right track. The information and stories at first hand felt much more valuable and I could connect much better then with the written words online. For my project I definitely want to capture and transfer this feeling which is essential for a better understanding of the subject and connecting with it and the ill persons. [Petting the Hydra]6



THE FIRST DAVID Luckily two exhibitions showing the work of two illustrators mainly dealing with the topic of depression and sadness were happening in autumn 2012 in Manchester. The Whitworth Gallery was displaying David Hockney’s ‘A Rake’s Progress’, the autobiographical story of the artist travelling to New York but also exploring himself and his soul in the mirror of the city. As I tried to find an image for my research before I focused on it like travelling on an island with many different and diverse places. Very much I felt this is the right tool, mapping out the stations on the island as Hockney did the very same thing in his ‘Rake’s Progress’ on the island of Manhatten. Also I could see that Hockney’s images only worked because he connected type and imagery, thoughts and memories. His style is not pretentious or perfect, it is honest and direct. This feeling should also be transported through my work later. THE SECOND DAVID As much as David Hockney’s work is sincere, it is also – well, depressing on an obvious level. Visiting David Shrigley’s exhibition ‘How are you feeling?’ at the Corner House was much of a relief for me. There is a way to approach the issue in a humorous but not less solid way. Shrigley’s illustrations work on a very clever but everyday level of thinking and feeling. Even though some of his drawings and messages seem to be silly or immature at first blush they reveal much of the innermost of his personality. This is exactly what I need for my project.


Even though illustrations work very well for both of the artists and their message the icing on the cake at Shrigley’s exhibition was the active part the spectator could take. In one of the rooms one could find a massive, black backpack. It was superlight but watching a person wearing it or carrying it oneself was, after the funny moment, giving one a better understanding on what the whole ‘How are you feeling?’ is all about - carrying weight. Visiting the exhibitions gave me a clearer image on what my final project should actually look like and feel like. There must be an interactive element to fully absorb the message I want to share.





BIBLIOGRAPHY 1 Gradin/Scariano (1986), Emergence: Labeled Autistic; Warner Books 2 Thwaites (2007), Reading Freud, Psychoanalysis as Cultural Theory; Sage Publications 3 Clark (2008), Depression and Narrative; SUNY Press 4 Adler (2009), Hanne Darboven: Cultural History 1880-1983, Afterall Books 5 Woolf (1925), Mrs Dalloway, Hogarth Press FILMOGRAPHY 1 Control (2007), 122 min, R: Corbijn, W: Curtis, Greenhalgh; The Weinstein Company 2 Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic-Depressive (2006), 120 min, R: Wilson; TV documentary 3 The Hours (2002), 114 min, R: Daldry, W: Cunningham, Hare; Paramount 4 Story Rooms: interactive networks (2005), 35 min, exhibition documentary 5 BBC Hello Culture - Madness 6 BBC 2, ArtWorks Scotland, The Madness of Peter Howson (2011), 60 min MUSIC 1 Finn Peters/Matthew Yee-King, Music of the Mind, 2 The Smiths (1986), Hatful of Hollow Heaven Knows I Am Miserable Now 3 Joy Division (1980), Closer, Isolation




INTRODUCTION................................................................................................5 MUSIC...............................................................................................................6 VISITING LOCAL SUPPORT CENTRES IN MANCHESTER.............8 INTERNET FORUMS..........................................................................................9 SURVEY ONLINE.............................................................................................10 SURVEY OFFLINE............................................................................................11 PUBLIC INFORMATION TALK AND INTERVIEW......................12 VISITING EXHIBITIONS..............................................................................13 SOURCES.......................................................................................17


How to pet the Hydra?  

Methods of Inquiry

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