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Shining through the stigma of mental illness

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Opening a dialogue: artist Eleanor Patton with her collection of jewellery designed to draw awareness to mental health (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Eleanor Patton is trying to remove the shame that’s attached to mental illness.

It’s not an entirely altruistic effort. The 29-year-old battled with her own anxiety for much of this year until therapy helped her through it.

The experience led to a collection of jewellery that she hopes will draw attention to the cause. It’s now on display in the Rick Faries Gallery at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.

“I have created a collection of jewellery using mirrors and the Kintsugi technique of repairing damage with gold to explore the feelings and experiences of struggling with your mental health,” Mrs Patton said.

“I’m hoping to open more dialogue surrounding the issue and help to take away a lot of the shame and stigma by showing sufferers that they are not alone, or broken; that they are amazing and should be celebrated for the battles they fight within themselves.

“It’s about helping to bring awareness to mental health, but also to help people who are struggling with mental health so they feel proud, rather than embarrassed or ashamed.”

The full-time artist is originally from London. She moved to the island four years ago after marrying Bermudian John Patton.

Her work has shown as part of the biennial Charman Prize at Masterworks and in an exhibit put on by the Bermuda Audubon Society.

However, the pieces now on display are likely her most important to date.

“I studied jewellery at university and I’ve always thought art was a great medium for drawing attention to any subject matter,” she said.

“The more aware we are of any form of illness, the easier it is to diagnose and treat. With loads of other illnesses, cancer for instance, you generally know what to look for; I think people often don’t with mental health problems and when you’re inside it yourself, it’s hard to see.”

Until she reached her breaking point in September, she’d assumed the depression and anxiety she felt was due to homesickness.

Her husband suggested a therapist might help.

“I was having panic attacks brought on by absolutely nothing,” Mrs Patton said.

“I [spent] three days in a row non-functioning. It sneaks up on you. It’s easy to think ‘I’m stressed’ [for whatever reason]. In my case it was ‘I’m from the UK, I’m just homesick’.

“Now I feel great. Seeing a therapist was the best decision I ever made.

“I think, even for people who feel fine, therapy is something everyone should do. Learning to self-critique in a positive way is a very important life skill.”

Her collection at Masterworks shows the path she travelled on the road to healing.

“The first pieces are about how good we are at hiding [mental illness] from ourselves, family and friends; we feel pressured to present happiness all the time.

“At the end of [the exhibit] the pieces are all gold to represent that place where you’re feeling recovered and in control of your mind again.

“I just hope it makes it an easier topic for everyone and for people who are struggling to feel less alone and proud of having fought such a difficult battle. We are fighting against ourselves, essentially, and that’s just exhausting.”

The exhibit continues at Masterworks until December 7.

•Read more here: eleanorpattonjewellery.com; www.bermudamasterworks.org

Raising awareness: Eleanor Patton has designed a collection of jewellery to help mental health issues
Capturing attention: Eleanor Patton has designed a collection of jewellery to help mental health (Photograph by blaire Simmons)
On a mission: Eleanor Patton with her jewellery (Photograph by blaire Simmons)