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Behind the picture: Metaphors of the mind

Frustrated by the lack of images to illustrate the mind, Dr Rhys Bevan-Jones, Clinical Research Fellow at the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, decided to create his own. Here he describes the story behind this picture, where the worlds of psychiatry and art collide.

Illustration of representations of the mind

Copyright: Rhys Bevan-Jones

 

One of my friends once told me that he saw the mind as a senate. He described it as a place where the issues of the day are discussed by lots of little people and organised by the main debater in the middle. So that’s what I drew (see middle-right of the picture).

This gave me the idea of asking more people how they saw their mind, or different aspects of the mind. I received a variety of responses. My hairdresser, for example, sees the mind as a series of little post boxes (middle-bottom). There’s a little person who receives the messages – visual and auditory – inside the head. They post and categorise each of the messages into different post boxes, based on the emotional content.

Someone else told me he had a ‘mind like a sewer’ (left, second from top). You can look at this superficially as an offhand comment, or you can go into it in greater depth.

I put together several prints, using various printmaking techniques, based on their answers to create this picture – ‘metaphors of the mind’.

Creative thinking

We don’t have many visual references in psychiatry. Although neuroimaging and genetics research produce interesting images, we don’t have many ways of medically imaging psychiatric conditions. So I thought there was scope to be a bit more creative and look subjectively at how people see and represent their own thoughts and mental states.

The picture combines my main interests, and associated training, in psychiatry, medicine and illustration. I did a medical degree and worked as a junior doctor before taking a part-time graphic design portfolio course at Central St Martins College of Art and Design.

I drew the picture when I took some time out of medicine to study for a degree in illustration and animation at Kingston University. I wanted to pursue my interest in drawing and how to combine medical psychiatry with visual imagery. I think the tutors probably thought it was a bit odd that a medic was coming in to do a degree in illustration.

A merging of interests

At first I kept both interests going in parallel but now I’ve managed to bring them together. I’m at the end of my higher training in psychiatry (both in child and adolescent, and general adult), and finishing a doctoral research fellowship with the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and Health and Care Research Wales (HCRW).

The aim of my NIHR/HCRW fellowship was to develop an online package to help young people who have experienced depressive symptoms, have a depressive disorder or those who are at risk of depression. It’s also to help families, carers, friends and professionals who are worried about a young person.

Therapeutic use

Cover template of an information sheet for the online package for mood and depression in young people

At the beginning of the project we ran interviews and focus groups with young people, families, carers and professionals. They told us that they would prefer a visual, rather than text-based, package. As a result, I’ve used lots of images and animations, including visual metaphors (like the one above), to try and illustrate different aspects of mood and depression that people can relate to.

The package consists of a website and an app, with information on mood and depression for young people and their families/carers. It’s got interactive components, like mood monitoring and goal-setting, and it can tailor information to be relevant for the user. A small evaluation of the initial prototype showed us that it was acceptable and feasible.

It’s currently in its final stages of development. I hope it will eventually be rolled out across the UK – in health, education, social and youth services and charities. Young people and their families/carers will be able to access it to learn more about mood and depression, and find out how to help themselves or where to get help.

Rhys Bevan-Jones

More examples of Rhys’ work are available on his website.


Also published on Medium.

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