When London-based writer and model Hélène Selam Kleih was faced with the sectioning of her twin brother – diagnosed with clinical depression and psychosis – followed by the tragic death of her cousin, she felt compelled to find out why so many men were suffering from mental health struggles. To do this, Paris-born Kleih commissioned an anthology of written and visual pieces, entitled HIM + HIS – a 522-page collaboration with 120 people, some friends of Kleih and others strangers in her creative network, who all responded to the loose brief of discussing men and mental health.
“The book is about speaking about mental health without it being a burden, without being defined by your mental health,” says Kleih. “It wasn’t just about my brother, it was about the men around him on that Lambeth ward where he was first sectioned. I couldn’t help but think; why are there so many men here? And, in my brother’s case, why so many black men? I wanted to make something that explored mental health in a way that I hadn’t seen, a book that could help me understand why we all feel like shit a lot of the time.”
Since self-publishing HIM + HIS in December (soon to be reissued), Kleih has collaborated with numerous voluntary groups to run therapy sessions and creative expression workshops. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (13th ‑19th May) Kleih is running a week-long photography exhibition and drop-in centre in East London from Wednesday (rsvp here).
Press play to hear Kleih and three HIM + HIS contributors – Athena Paginton and Abdourahman Njie – speak out about mental health.
So Him + His started two years ago. My cousin hadn’t spoken to me in about two weeks. He had been, like, navigating his own mental health. Struggling quite a bit but he seemed like he was doing good. Later found out he jumped out of a nine-storey flat and that’s when I started thinking he’s supposed to be the role model to my brother and he’s done this. So, kind of, what hope is there? What action do we need to take in treating the root before the rot. My brother’s been sectioned now for about six years. He’s got autism, so it’s very high functioning, but that’s kind of to his detriment. So he’s very aware that he is in an institution and he can’t leave. But I think it’s the frustration of being in and not feeling like you’re in control of yourself. So that’s what Him + His is basically. “Him” signifies the physical being and “His” is the agency we have over ourselves.
Since I moved to London in 2017, I have been sofa surfeing on and off and I do believe that this has had quite an impact on my mental health in regards to, you know, keeping grounded and finding your own stability. It’s very integral I’ve learnt. I think if you don’t have your own space and you’re moving around, you’re trying to naivate, trying to work, maintain social relationships, it’s not always going to be the easiest thing because you end up finding yourself projecting onto other people, and when I say projecting, I mean your problems, your stresses because you never have time for yourself. You’re always constantly moving around. Also I think as well something that’s taken for granted is your sense of ownership and belonging. Owning your own space has so much psychological impact. It gives you that confidence. It gives you that boost. It gives you a better understanding of yourself, you know?
Hey I’m Athena Paginton, I’m based in London and I’m a makeup artist. I grew up in a predominantly female environment where self-care wasn’t a topic of conversation, meaning there was no male guidance in a time where my mental health needed nurturing. It wasn’t until my uncle joined the family that I had more of a clear understanding of what it meant to actually look after yourself. He taught me how important exercise was. Why you should prioritise your mental health. And whilst we were out on our walks and runs, he’d always tell me his own stories and his own struggles and it was really within those moments of sharing that we both then became stronger. And that’s why it’s so important to share – to speak up – because without him in my life I wouldn’t have learnt such important lessons.