Schizophrenia, Paranoia, Depression, And Other Mental Illnesses Brought To Life As "Real Monsters"

An artist struggling with his own anxiety gives mental illness a monstrous, illustrated form to shed light on an often invisible problem.

Artist Toby Allen has long suffered from general and social anxiety, illnesses that are burdensome to those they plague, but often invisible to the outside world. Three years ago, to give his demons shape, he created and illustrated a story called "Toby and the Monsters."

"Drawing these characters was a very cathartic process, so I developed the idea into a larger project that covered other mental illnesses in the hopes that other people could relate to the work," he said.

In his new watercolor collection, Real Monsters, Allen gives form to serious illness including Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Depression. He researches each condition and adds to the drawing as his understanding of the particular disorder comes into focus. The Anxiety monster, for example, was inspired by the secretive and furtive habits of rodents. The dark colors represent the oppressive feelings that Allen associates with feeling anxious, and the bright pink tail symbolizes an anxiety-related panic attack. He included a clock to demonstrate how anxious he often feels about future events.

"By giving these illnesses a physical form, it can help to make people more aware of them and sometimes make them appear more manageable," he says. In the coming weeks, Allen will release more mental illness monsters into the wild, including OCD, Anorexia Nervosa, and Bipolar Disorder.

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  • kremit

    I am going to agree with Guest, commenting about "so you don't like Pharma." 

    Unsure if I am signed in so I may show up as guest as well. Anxiety is a very interesting thing. It is real and everyone experiences it. That nervous feeling you have before doing something new? Anxiety. Unsure how it's mythical. The same thing with schizophrenia. Both have been documented for centuries. Apparently the artist or whoever thinks these disorders are fake, doesn't know anyone with them. You would be interested to know how many people in the world, yep the world, see a giant human sized spider every once in a while. Not in their dreams, but wide awake. The spider isn't really there, it's just they see it. It doesn't talk, it doesn't attack you, it just stairs at you. I know many times they freaked out when they first saw it, but then just started ignoring it after they figured out it would not harm them. It never goes away. THIS is schizophrenia. Multiple personality disorder is an interesting one too. Imagine talking to someone you love, holding a complete conversation, then come to find out, you don't remember ever having the conversation. Almost like they were asleep. I could go on and on, but mental illness is real.

  • Truthful

    Just a shame he's not thoughtful of others in real life. He can be a very cruel person

  • Bradford

     This is actually "Bradford", from the original comment, and I am
    responding to "GUEST", who responded, below...I can't seem to find how
    else to do this...
    First, "guest", I did NOT say "there is no such
    thing" as "schizophrenia", "depression", or "bipolar disorder". I said
    that they lack OBJECTIVE REALITY, and are only as "REAL" as other myths
    such as Santa Claus, but NOT MORE "real". What's "dangerously out of
    bounds" about THAT? Somebody, most likely a practitioner of the
    pseudo-science of psychiatry, told these persons that these were real,
    actual "diseases", or "illnesses", or "mental health issues", or, again,
    whatever EUPHEMISM DU JOUR may be currently fashionable...
    And, I'm
    not saying the artist is the one "pimping". You're reading WAY too much
    into my comment. I'm saying that FastCompany itself is doing the
    "pimping" for Pharma, and the pseudo-science of psychiatry. Have you
    personally read the WHOLE of the new DSM-V...???... I didn't think so...
    free to describe my opinions as "conspiracy theories", and allege that
    they are "mean-spirited", "potentially dangerous", and even "totally
    bogus".  But I know you're wrong. It appears that my comment "missed the
    mark" for YOU.
    Don't feel bad. You're a LOW-VALUE target, anyway...
    So-called "mental illnesses" are as real as Santa Claus, but not more
    real. After you've thought about that long enough, you will agree.
    Unless you're psychotic...

  • Bradford

    Whether we call these "issues", or "illnesses", or whatever EUPHEMISM du jour, ALL these "conditions" are exactly as REAL as Santa Claus...but not more real...
    They are all excuses for Pharma to sell vastly-overpriced DRUGS...
    Nothing like pimping the LIE of psychiatry, for the creative crowd, is there...???...

  • Guest

    If you didn't like the art, or the message missed the mark for you, that's fine. You are free to say so. But suggesting (to anyone, of any age, any level of vulnerability, who might see this) that there is no such thing as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder? That's dangerously out of bounds. OK, so you don't like "Pharma" or psychiatry. We get that. But where do you get off telling this brave individual that his personal artistic expression is nothing short of prostituting his mental health? Sounds a lot like sour grapes. Guess there's no point in suggesting anger management therapy...probably not much point in saying anything at all - to you. But it's important that your ignorant conspiracy theories be labelled for what they are - mean-spirited, potentially dangerous, and totally bogus.

  • Miniki Esme Yushido

    Who cares what others think, it's about how they make you feel. Personally i suffer through some of these illnesses and looking at these creative pieces has made me feel as if there is a bright side and that, when putting them in such a form, they can be viewed as manageable. When you give a face to the name of what you are dealing with it gives you a better understanding of that issue and a way to combat it. I believe you have done a great job and would like to see more.  

  • Guest

    I appreciate that you're trying to bring awareness to such complex issues, but the idea of representing these real life destorying problems as cutesy drawings is insulting.

  • Crystal Clark

    Well, the fact that the artist suffers from at least one of the illnesses behind these "cutesy drawings" should tell you that this is simply how they give the illness a physical form so that it can be easier to manage. I deal with my fair share of these real life destroying issues, and I can tell you that I'm not insulted by them. I think they're fantastic. There is nothing wrong with expressing these illnesses as tangible things. Being more "cutesy" than they are frightening or grotesque I think only helps make it more manageable. If you thought of the anxiety you had as something terrifying, wouldn't that only add to your anxiety? But you expressed and thought about that anxiety as something small and maybe even kind of adorable, how much easier is it then to work through it and maybe even save yourself from having a full blown panic attack? Besides, art despicting these illnesses does not have to be scary to be poignant. I think Toby is doing something wonderful here with this art and I hope that he continues it. For me, if just one of these drawings helps someone break the barriers caused by the stigma against mental illness and find out more about it for themselves, then Toby has done something great.

  • Guest

    People really do find any reason to bitch and hate against something, don't they? 'Cutsey drawings'? No, this is a pure and simple creative outlet that's being used to portray these issues in a completely serious way. Speak for yourself when you take offense to it, and it's at that point that I'd encourage you to ignore them and go elsewhere.

  • Makeira Haueru

    I love these. it gives a whole new light to these issues. I suffer from some of these so it was really interesting to see them characterized.

  • Me

    Sory, but Anxiety Disorder is NOT completely a mental illness. It can be caused by magnesium deficiency or problems with nervous system or hormonal problems. Using this term for this case is incorrect and misleading.

  • Crystal Clark

    Whether or not there are other things that can cause anxiety disorders doesn't mean that there are none that are classified as a mental illness. So, really it's not misleading or incorrect.

  • Jayqueen120

    or people could be born with it. it is a side effect of ADD and people are born with that. 

  • AbbyFour

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you might tell him there's a typo on the schizophrenia passage: hallucinogenic gases secreted from the pores on his underbelly--not "form."