In a series of illustrations titled, “Real Monsters,” UK-based illustrator Toby Allen portrays mental illnesses as imaginary monsters, fantastical creatures bearing wings, scales, and tales. One of the many difficult aspects of mental illness is that it can be a struggle to see it as the disease that it is, even for people who suffer from it. Because mental illness lacks physical symptoms like coughing and fever, it’s all too easy for people to regard it as something they’ve made up or somehow inflicted on themselves. Allen’s Monster series is a whimsical, engaging depiction of a harsh reality that many people face every day, giving physical form to disorders that can feel frustratingly immaterial.
Allen, who himself suffers from anxiety, has emphasized that the purpose of his illustrations is not downplay the seriousness of these medical conditions. Rather, the series “is intended to give these intangible mental illnesses some substance and make them appear more manageable as physical entities.” Each illustration features a short description alongside it that explains how the monster attacks its victims. Imagining the symptoms of different mental illnesses within a fantasy setting, the descriptions offer creative, and often thought provoking perspectives on how these conditions function. For example, Allen describes the behavior of “Paranoia”:
The paranoia monster uses its tall ears like a radar, scanning the area for any activity. In fact, the monster’s ears are almost useless due to the tightly curled up cartilage and thick fur, so the sounds often get confused and muffled, meaning paranoia almost often hears the wrong thing, which it then passes onto its victim.
Allen explains of the series,
I hope to draw attention to mental illnesses that often get ignored or aren’t taken as seriously as they should. I want to make people aware of how damaging these illnesses are and how much of a burden they can be to those who suffer from them.
You can purchase prints from the Real Monsters series here.
Images Courtesy of Toby Allen (14).