When her twin brother was diagnosed with psychosis and clinical depression, German-Eritrean writer and model Helene Selam Kleih decided to take matters in her own hands. To her, mental health (for men in particular) was a subject that’s gone undiscussed for far too long. If and when it was finally discussed, it always came with its own set of stigmas that muddled the conversation.
“The problematic discourse around men and mental health reinforces the prejudice and stereotypes in place that drag the male self and ego into the ground” the 23-year-old London-based writer said, before adding that the key reason why was, “Vulnerability and fragility” which are often “framed as a defect and a weakness”.
“From a young age, men are taught to be strong – and strength is demonstrated not through words, but actions,” she explained.
So, in an effort to bring real change—not only within the conversation but to also shine a light on the fact that mental health for men is largely inaccessible—Kleih decided to write a book about the topic. Entitled ‘HIM + HIS’, her latest project is both a visual and written exploration of male identity.
The language used in the current discourse played a big role in her decision to publish the book. According to her, “the unfavorable language surrounding mental health in general is problematic – and leads to a reluctance to speak out, let alone seek help.”
Collected by Kleih herself, the book is an assortment of poems, short stories, letters, illustrations and photography, created by people of all walks of life. The project began when she started speaking to strangers about the stigmas around men and mental health, then slowly, as the idea for the book began to formulate itself, Kleih decided to reach out to her friends and colleagues to share their own stories.
The process has largely been random, and today, as she reaches the final stages of her book, her list of contributors has come to include the work of mental health experts and National Health Institute professionals.
In order to tend to all aspects surrounding the topic, and encompass the many different layers that come with being mentally ill (an important objective for Kleih due to her own experience with her brother—who has been in a UK-based psychiatric ward since early last year), the book caters not only to those who suffer with mental health, but those who struggle to navigate through their relationship with mentally ill family members and friends as well.
And while the topic is a heavy one, Kleih hopes the book to be enjoyable for the reader to digest. “The topic is not an easy one, which is why so many [people], even if they are open to speaking about harrowing issues globally, choose to personally neglect their own,” she says.
“I want readers to hold HIM + HIS as journal of hope – a platform to speak honestly, however dark, a means to continue a discussion in a meaningful albeit light-hearted way”.
In symbolic fashion, Kleih has planned for the book to be released on 10 October, which happens to be World Mental Health Day, but for the book to reach the masses, she’s looking for monetary support and is currently running a crowdfunder campaign to reach her goal.
To support HIM + HIS, you can donate here.