Doll Hospital, a zine exploring mental health issues, has garnered a lot of popularity (I am happy to say) and for good reason-- it's filled an under-recognized niche in an incredibly beautiful way. Mental health appears to be very well-discussed in the modern age-- with tweets preaching self care and Insta posts candidly talking about depression, and although this destigmatization is an important step forward, there is still a lack of in-depth reflections and investigations on mental health-- particularly in the context of pop culture.
That's why Bethany Rose Lamont decided to start Doll Hospital. Reacting against the often confining perception of mental health narratives on social media, Bethany opted for the print medium, which distances the content of Doll Hospital from the endless stream of comments that aim to classify trauma as tragic or pitiable (and recovery as inspirational and uplifting)-- in other words, the comments that try to define trauma as one thing, when in reality it is much more complex. At first I thought it almost seemed inaccurate to classify Doll Hospital as solely a journal about mental health, because it includes so many topics, but then I realized that this also stemmed from the damaging, restrictive views regarding mental health that I had internalized. Doll Hospital includes a range of subjects because mental health and trauma permeate all areas of life.
Doll Hospital is also one of the most well put-together publications that I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. Nothing feels gimmicky or gratuitous. The visual sensibilities compliment the articles incredibly well. The zine does feel free from the interference that comes with the internet, but doesn't pretend to be gospel and invites readers to continue the conversation.
Why did you decide to start Doll Hospital?
I started Doll Hospital as though I was incredibly inspired by the incredible artwork, illustration, poetry and blogging that was happening online I felt limited by a purely digital platform of expression due to questions of vulnerability and self consciousness. Though all writing for an audience is going to be performative and self aware, whether in print or online, I really felt like a quieter, offline platform could be a better model of expression when discussing such complex, personal themes, particularly for already marginalised creative voices. At the time of starting Doll Hospital, in May 2014, I had just published an essay for Rookie Magazine on the subject of childhood trauma, and realised that through Twitter I was being pigeon holed into a bit of a tragic narrative, due to the nature of how social media spaces are structured I feel like painful narratives tend to be reduced to feelings of pity or outrage, which seemed so reductive. I wanted more than that. Similarly, I was struggling with suicidal thoughts at the time, I mean I STILL struggle with that, but at that time my only way of coping seemed to be tweeting like thinly veiled suicide notes over 400 layers of irony on Twitter. I wanted to challenge myself to have more nuanced conversations on this subject to do justice to such a struggle. What's behind the name Doll Hospital? It's from the summer 2012 edition of Another Magazine, Joe Dunthorne, the author of Submarine had curated a really amazing feature, pairing literary quotes with fashion photography, one quote went something along the lines of 'this is the doll hospital/they come to me broken and I give them new life.' I thought that was such a powerful quote, and that doll hospital was such a powerful combination of words, so for years I had quite a few of my social media names as 'dollhospital', like instagram, pinterest, places like that. So when I decided to set up a mental health zine in 2014, well the name just felt natural to me. As the co-creator of Sad Girl Cinema, what films do you think most accurately depict mental illness? I'm not actually super interested in the binary of like good representation and bad representation. I have a tendency to gravity towards the 'bad' representations anyway, I think they're the most interesting, as they're always so revealing of popular fears and fantasies.
In terms of accuracy, cinema is a fiction, it isn't a documentary, so accuracy isn't necessarily its end goal, and couldn't really achieve that if it wanted to. There's a quote by Jean Luc Godard which goes “the cinema is something between art and life" which really sums that up. I'm more interested in mental health representations in movies as like these exaggerated artefacts of the beliefs of their time, and how engagements with these movies reflects how we can engage and aestheticise ourselves and one another. Movies I love for this include, The Snake Pit, Shock Corridor, Lady Sings the Blues, Now Voyager, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Dear Zindagi and Mysterious Skin. The question of loneliness, of isolation, is something I especially return to when it comes to engaging with these representations when you're hurting yourself. Sometimes when I'm stuck in my room watching Bojack Horseman, or the Sopranos or whatever, it feels like this consumption is more of a symptom than a solution to my illness. This is not to say that film and television does not have a responsibility to represent these subjects thoughtfully, it absolutely does. But I think to see films as totally literal would misunderstand their function quite a bit. Who are your inspirations? The amazing work Tavi Gevinson has achieved through Rookie Magazine is a huge inspiration to me, Rookie Year Book One was a huge game changer for me, and on so many different levels Doll Hospital simply would not exist without her. If we're talking about publishing it's also important to emphasise the work of Nicole Cliffe, who not only is a creative force in her own right, but whose generosity helped realise Doll Hospital. Similarly, Charlie Lyne's thoughtful and accessible film making, particularly Fear Itself and Beyond Clueless, was the catalyst for my own exploration of film making. I owe those three so much. What's the best reaction anyone's ever had to your work? Honestly anyone who has said that Doll Hospital feels less alone, so much of the work I do was coming from my own feelings of loneliness and isolation, combined with my frustration of the structural oppressions inherent in how mental health is both treated and constructed. When dealing with questions of healthcare I felt so isolated and disempowered, I think connecting with others to foster complex conversations to drive both personal growth and structural change is so essential. Who would you most want to collaborate with on a project? I love connecting with visual artists and designers, especially Doll Hospital's graphic designer Maggie, who I'm now working with again for Sad Girl Cinema. I do some painting and I'm a mood board fanatic but I'm terrible at getting anything on paper that actually looks decent, working with Maggie is honestly a dream. I went to art school and so wanted to be gifted at that stuff, but I'm way better at stuff like writing and editing, I love connecting with her to bring a written idea into a visual reality. Right now there's a real obsession with everyone being some kind of Renaissance style late capitalist polymath, that you have to be a model, a musician, a photographer, a businesswoman, a writer, just like an endless list of industries to excel at. I think it's important for people to realise that you don't have to be like awesome at everything, that creative work is a collaboration and you can work together to share your gifts and create something really special. What's an object in your life that you view as a symbol for something? I think my most treasured object is a heart shaped locket with angel written on it, it's like a mood ring type situation where the heart changes colour and I can't actually wear it because it makes my neck go green as it's made of like tin or something. My boyfriend of three and a half years bought it for me at an aquarium gift shop and for me it's just like a divine artefact, like a relic, something secret and sacred. What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given? I've been given a wide variety of truly terrible advice in my life, to drop out of school, to stop writing, to stop trying, to not seek mental health support, to seek some potentially really damaging mental health support. So many of the adults in my life growing were really hurtful, and I always really desperately wanted to a mentor, to tell me I was actually not a worthless piece of shit, that I mattered, even if I was low income, or ugly, or 'ethnic', or whatever, but that didn't happen so I just had to cheerlead for myself. As a British Syrian writer from a working class background I worry so much about the endless ways that working class people of colour are given these nihilistic messages of absolute worthless. I'm not really from a background where people are encouraged to cultivate creativity, just anger and addiction, it's like you're just kind of expected to just lay down and die, so the best piece of advice was probably the voice in my head telling me that they were wrong and that I had value and a future and to ignore them.
Images used in collage via @dollhospital