I am writing this from a place of despair

Today I sat at my desk crying because I had the most overwhelming urge in that moment that I wanted (want) to die.

For as long as I can remember I have suffered from depression.

Here’s a textual representation of what depression looks like: I am worthless, I am ugly, I am nothing. Someone could do this better (I’m an organ donor). I’m not contributing. I have no friends and nobody likes me. I am not good enough. I am not cool enough. I am not thin enough. Not pretty enough. Not wanted enough. Not important enough. Never enough. Not a part of anything. What a waste of space; loner, loser. I wish I was dead. I am too weak to get by in this world. I am too sensitive. I am hideous, what a disgrace. I don’t deserve life. I should die. I wish I was dead. I am disgusting. I hate myself. No wonder no-one calls me – they know I am not worth knowing, that I am not connected enough and of no social value.

(If you’re exhausted halfway through the above, you should be. It’s totally depleting – I should know, I carry that around all day, on a loop).

Depression is a disease, for sure. But it’s particularly venomous because of its invisibility (you are alone with your thoughts) and the ease with which it is so casually dismissed. This has never been more true in a culture which actively celebrates the glossy images of a rehearsed, performed and curated life (social media) in which any glimpse behind-the-scenes, aka vulnerability is akin to indecent exposure.

I suffer in silence. Totally and utterly alone.

You’ve Been Framed: Art by Offenders

Art by Offenders at the Southbank Centre is this month’s must-see event for everyone’s cultural calendar. Running until 20 November, it is an exhibition of new work by people who are in the criminal justice system and in secure settings across the UK.

There are over 130 exhibits on display in a variety of different mediums: visual arts, film, music and creative writing. All the work is done by prisoners, young offenders, secure psychiatric patients and immigration detainees as well as those on community sentences, probation and remand.

With such a context it’s hardly surprising that this exhibition, curated by Justices of the Peace from the Magistrates’ Association, has some powerful, emotive and thought-provoking pieces. What is surprising, given that the work is not done by practicing artists, is the sheer professional quality and high-level of talent on display.

There is something very human about this exhibition. It acts as a way of reinforcing the imperfect nature of our own existence. With many pieces toying with philosophical ideas, there can be no passive viewing here. The power in this exhibition is that you are forced to react, to question and to de-code what appears before you. Many of the pieces are hard-hitting: they almost act as a canvas-passageway to the soul, into the darkness of the human psyche.

Cognitive Distortive Reality by an anonymous artist from HM Prison Shepton Mallet in Somerset is one such piece. This work, with a clear subtext of substance misuse, plays with notions of mirror-images, reflection, doubling; ideas of conflict between what we perceive to be true – our ‘cognitive distortion’ – and what reality actually dictates.

Not all pieces are heavy-weight, however. Some of the work on display is remarkably uplifting with undertones of humour, hope, reconciliation and positive reflection.

This exhibition argues for the benefit of art for all those in secure settings, not just for those with mental-health problems. An exhibited artist from HM Prison Albany says ‘I believe art has changed me, and you could say it saved me.’

Art by Offenders is the fourth annual exhibition in an ongoing partnership between the Southbank Centre and the Koestler Trust.

The Koestler Trust is the UK’s best known prison arts charity. Its aim is to help offenders, secure patients and detainees lead more positive lives by motivating them to participate and achieve in the arts.

Tim Robertson, Chief Executive of the Koestler Trust, says:  ‘Art has the ability to rehabilitate and transform lives – to give people a purpose, an outlet to express themselves and in many cases a chance to pursue a previously unexplored talent.’