Faces in the Water

On mental illness and the Dutch mental health system

Following the stories of five young adults grappling with depression, disorders and suicidal thoughts, the project looks at the impact of mental illnesses on their lives - and at their struggle with the Dutch mental health care system.

Through photographs, interviews and drawings, the five share intimate accounts of being in increasing conflict with themselves, and of being sent away by health care insitutions, unheard, unhelped and misunderstood.

2022, Graduation Work Royal Academy of Art, Den Haag
in parts commissioned by Creative Court x Culture Action Europe


I should be happy, but I’m not.

I refused to sleep in my own room when I came home. I slept in the guest room in our house. Depersonalization, or something. I didn’t want to feel like myself.

It’s like you’re in this very big field of nothingness and you’re all there by yourself. And then you can walk towards one side to search for a relief or something but it’s not there. And then you can walk to the other side, because you know, that maybe it’s there. And then it’s still not there. And if you tried to reach out, calling for help,  nobody’s really hearing it.

His name is Bob.
He feels really heavy and really slow and I don’t really know if I have the words for itbut his goal is to break me.

I still struggle with just asking for help, I guess. I don‘t want to bother anyone with my sadness.


What does it feel like? It kind of feels like being dragged down into something and you don’t really notice that you’re being dragged down until you’re all the way at the bottom.

I think it’s very lonely. It’s like you’re in this very big field of nothingness and you’re all there by yourself. And then you can walk towards one side to search for a relief or something but it’s not there. And then you can walk to the other side, because you know, that maybe it’s there. And then it’s still not there. And if you tried to reach out, calling for help, nobody’s really hearing it.

Whenever I have to think about what I’m struggling with it’s just a whole mess in my head. I sort of black out. I can’t think anymore. 

There was this time when I did try to kill myself. I feel like everyone is really open when you say that you’re going to therapy but when you’re really low and at that point, nobody really understands. That was I think the toughest part. Really feeling that if you’re really, really doing bad, most people just take a distance from you. Because it’s difficult for them also, and I understand, but it’s the toughest thing.

Because it’s not really like I feel like I want to die, it’s just that I no longer want to feel this way. You’re getting so desperate not to feel that way that you’re thinking about escaping through death. You’re not really done with life, just with feeling that way.


I think I struggled with depression from age 14/15. At the time, I didn’t really know. But now looking back. I’m like, were you actually happy at some point? Probably not. Not really.

On a daily basis, I still struggle with depression. I think there’s not any more than one week that I’m kind of happy. And some days it’s really bad. Sometimes I think I can’t get out of bed because of all these negative thoughts I have. And sometimes it’s just sad. And sometimes it’s numb, which is actually kind of chill, like a break from everything. But I do remember in 2017, for a few months, I just didn’t feel anything. And it was really boring. I remember it was really boring to not feel any emotion at all. And then afterwards, I started feeling more emotions again, but I was more sad and more angry and more negative stuff. It’s really exhausting, because I just put on a mask to other people. Having small talk with other people is really exhausting when you’re not really feeling so great. Some days it’s worse than other days, I guess.

I remember one year I went on vacation with friends and I was still not feeling good, but I was partying and drinking and I remember that like a friend of mine - because I was self harming and you could see it -  she was like, what do you have there? And I was like, no, we’re partying. We’re not going to talk about any of this.

I only told them around two years later.


I don’t really know how to start with my mental problems actually.  I have a whole list of mental problems. I got depression. I got an eating disorder. I have OCD. I had a burnout from school. And I have a personality disorder.

My depression is persistent depressive disorder. Normal depression usually lasts like a couple months. But persistent depressive disorder takes years. And isn’t that you’re just laying in bed all day and not being able to do anything, but you still go to school and all, you just feel sort of empty inside and you feel like you’re not doing it for anything. So that sort of builds up in the years, it gets worse and worse until, you know, it becomes part of you.

The personality disorder that I have is histrionic, and that means that you feel your emotions a lot more than other people. It used to be called theatrical personality.

And then when I was about 13, I think I had my first eating disorder thoughts. At the same time, I also started doing a lot of work for school, started going overboard on that, overboard on my eating disorder, overboard on my OCD that was slowly starting up as well. And in November 2019, I had a burnout from school. I couldn’t stand up for five weeks. I was just lying in my bed. I couldn’t move.

I remember going to my parents, saying, I’m so proud of myself. I was able to go to the bathroom today. I stood up. Can you believe it?

We got in contact with some therapists for a burnout. And then they asked, honey, have you been eating? And the answer was obviously no.
That burnout, that’s what triggered everything because I didn’t go to school anymore. And I wasn’t myself anymore. From that point on, I sort of lost myself.

After, I became hollow on the inside. I was only my eating disorder. We didn’t even know I had any other problems, because I was so much in my eating disorder, there was nothing else.

I had erased a lot of parts of myself, all my hobbies and things that I liked to do I wouldn’t do anymore. And I would feel bad if I did do them. I used to read a lot. And then I couldn’t read anymore. I once grabbed a book, and I started crying just from grabbing it.

I refused to sleep in my own room when I came home from the hospital. I slept in the guest room in our house. Depersonalization, or something. I didn’t want to feel like myself.

I still miss my eating disorder. I left the clinic in January. If someone could tell me like, hey, you know, press that button, you’ll lose all the weight again, and you’ll be as bad as you were a year ago, I think I would do it. Which I know is not the greatest thing to say. It’s a lot. But at the same time, I do now realize what it does and I hate it. It’s just that it is so strong sometimes. And it still takes me over sometimes.

When I’m in my depression, I don’t know, I just feel very empty or something. I don’t really know how to describe it. You know how people are always like, Oh, you can’t turn off your thoughts. I’m always thinking, yes you can, if you have depression. It just goes so quiet. And you’re so tired. And it just feels like nothing really matters anymore. Because it’s so quiet anyways. I don’t know, the atmosphere changes. It’s a very ominous atmosphere. And it just feels like that’s just your life, you know, you’re not going to get out of that. And then the intrusive thoughts usually come in like, oh, you should just kill yourself. And I’m like, I know. I tried.

It just feels very silent. You know, how in a movie, when the movie is about to end and you have the last scene and it just feels kind of weird knowing that it’s the last scene? That’s how depression feels. I guess depression combined with suicidal thoughts.

It just comes in waves. Suddenly you just drop everything. And suddenly, everything is quiet. And I’m like, okay. That’s my depression. We’re quiet again. We’re just gonna lie down now and think about ways to kill myself.

When I was still at home before I went to the clinic, my day consisted of waking up, just you know, having breakfast, walking, and tracking how much I walked. Having lunch, walking, just walking the entire day. And just tracking my calories, tracking my steps, tracking everything. And that was it really, I wouldn’t do anything else. Because I couldn’t do anything else because I just wasn’t myself at that moment.

I had the scale next to my bed so I could use it multiple times a day, which I did. Nobody questioned it. Nobody thought it was weird.

Even if it doesn’t turn into something physical, it’s still bad. It’s not that if the mental illness can’t affect you physically, it isn’t bad. No, it’s bad. It is always bad because it fucks you up on the inside. It doesn’t matter if you only have something that stays in your head - it ruins you. It ruined my life. Even if I didn’t have an eating disorder but I only had depression, it would have still ruined my life, I think. It took everything away from me, it took away my family, my friends, my school, which I liked. I liked school, I like to read so much.


I’ve struggled with depression for a few years now. I’m also suicidal, that’s pretty hard sometimes. I also have autism, diagnosed after it got called just autism spectrum disorder. I’m transgender, and probably gay or pan or something like that? I’m not sure.

I used to harm myself. I still do. It’s hard. It’s just so easy to grab scissors and just go like... 
Some days are just okay, and other days, I’m just like, nope, I’m not gonna get out of bed. And it’s just dark and a hellish feeling like there’s a really big weight on your shoulder. Sometimes it’s like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and I’m think, I should be happy because I live in the Netherlands, I have a roof and I food and I have water and all this kind of stuff, and the kids in Africa and Mexico and other countries don’t have that. So I should be happy but I’m not.

I haven’t been officially diagnosed with an eating disorder but I struggle a lot with eating and over exercising. My life in general is just a mess. I mean, I try to be as happy as I can. I’ve got a dog. I’ve got a cat. I’ve got loving parents. I’ve got amazing friends, but it’s just hard. Some days I just lay in bed and then I think why am I doing this? Why?

How does being on the spectrum influence things?
I find it really hard to look into other people’s eyes.
I try to but I look away a lot. I find it really hard to decide what people are feeling. So if someone is clearly not happy, I see it, and if someone’s enthusiastic I see it, but when it’s not as obvious I find it really hard to tell. 

I just need everything to be clear for me to so when something’s not clear, I don’t know what’s expected of me now, and I just collapse. So everything, hour by hour needs to be very clearly so when it isn’t just collapse and I don’t know what to do. I get angry or I get really sad so it does all connect.

The suicidal thoughts started when I was young, and then I was just angry and I’d say stuff like that because I was just angry, you know? But over the years, they got more serious. At some point, I just thought I was worthless and no one could love me. I was like, what am I doing here? I tried to commit suicide one. By taking an overdose. And I stood at the bridge - the train drives over it - I stood there a few times.


I’ve been struggling with mental health problems for the biggest part of my life.

I think the first time I started consciously thinking about I don’t feel right was when I was maybe nine or 10 years old. So really, really young. And I have been depressed a lot of times in my life. And it was always a feeling of I don’t belong here. And it feels hard to be alive.

I made a piece about this for school, so I made a character out of my depression and his name is Bob. He feels really heavy and really slow and I don’t really know if I have the words for it but I know I can act it out and his goal is to break me. It’s dark and it’s heavy and it’s like you’re in a cloud but not like when people say oh my head is in the clouds not in a nice way. No, no a very heavy and dark and foggy cloud.

I imagine it being sort of a creature that just sticks onto my brain and just doesn’t let go and it makes everything black. So very dark and like thick ink.

I always wanted to have kids, but then I got really depressed in the last two years, and then I decided not to want to have kids anymore because my parents put me on this earth without my permission and I don’t like being alive. I’ve never liked being alive. So why would I put someone else in that position? Maybe my kids won’t be happy to be alive, either. So if it’s only going to be, I want to have kids because I want to have kids, it would be nice to have kids or something like that, that’s not enough.

Because I’m getting therapy right now and figuring things out about my own childhood, I am thinking about how my parents did things. And I think that they both struggled with their mental health in other ways. And if it was more common to go see a therapist for that kind of problems back then, like before they have kids, that my childhood would’ve been different, very, very different. And I, really, I am thankful that I don’t have kids yet. So don’t they don’t have to deal with me with my mental health issues. And I also I think that I want to have kids, but I want to have kids when I’m mentally ready to do that. And not because I feel like Oh, I’m getting old and I have to do this now. And I want kids but if I’m never going to be mentally ready to have kids, I won’t ever have kids, because I don’t want to do this to anyone.

These are excerpts from interviews with Nomi, Mitch, Sophie, Danique and Martina. The full stories about their illnesses and their struggles with the Dutch mental health system ​(GGZ) can be read in the newspaper ‘Dear GGZ, I’m angry that I needed you’.

The project is self-published as a book (Drowning) and a newspaper (Dear GGZ, I am angry that I needed you). Available on request.