Shining Light on Depression: An Often Dismissed Struggle Any Creative Can Face

Shining Light on Depression: An Often Dismissed Struggle Any Creative Can Face

Ever meet someone who is so upbeat and happy that they can’t help but greet you with a big smile and hug every single time they see you? Ask anyone in the photo industry and you'll know, that’s Jaleel King.

I had the pleasure of meeting King at a studio event several years back, admiring his exhibition of gritty black and white street portraits from afar, then meeting the man behind it all who simply said, “Dude, that’s a sick beard! Let’s take a photo together!” Who can say no to that, right? Anyone who’s met either of us wouldn’t be surprised to know we continued to chat for the rest of the night; we're definitely a pair of talkers.

It was great meeting someone new whose work really stood out to me and more importantly someone who made you realize you're taking life too seriously. For a lot of people, this video put together by a friend of King, Mike Allebach, was how they were introduced to this very inspiring individual:

This video is what really launched King's career after going viral and being featured on various websites and blogs. What's interesting to note though is that while his work is solid, what resonates with most people is his infectious personality and smile especially after hearing about his story of what landed him in a wheelchair at just eight years old.

Since most of us find it too invasive to ask, I'll just tell you: While setting off fireworks one hot summer day before the Fourth of July, an irrate neighbor came outside with a sawed off shotgun and King was struck in the back paralyzing him from the waist down.

It was murder. The fact that Jaleel King still lives is just a detail. The shotgun pellets that tore through his back July 1, 1984, destroyed one of his kidneys, a quarter of his right lung and part of his liver.

— Philadelphia Daily News

© 2015 Jaleel King |

However, on this particular rainy day while I sat at a corner cafe waiting for King to come by to catch up and interview him for this article, I couldn't help but notice when he came in that his appearance seemed a bit dimmer than usual. Naturally the Hurricane Joaquin rain didn't help anyone's mood, but I definitely noticed something off with King. Being the Chatty Cathys we are, we sat for hours talking about the details of his story, about finding photography some 15 years after his shooting and what he's been up to since we last saw each other. Yet, it was when we got to the topic of how the last few months have been that the conversation took a somber turn.

Depression - It's something that many people feel uneasy talking about, especially those of us in the creative arts.

Artists that struggle with bouts of depression are not uncommon. However, in today's always-be-selling-yourself social media world, honesty and openness are rather obscure. This shouldn't come as any surprise of course, the idea of social media and sharing platforms are what has launched this new entrepreneurial boom, where anyone with an idea, a Twitter, a Facebook page, and some hustle can launch a successful business. While a fascinating time in our culture, it's still so early on in this development as a society that we can't tell what these long-term effects are.

© 2014 Autumn Pittelli |

Just think about how many artists, actors, comedians, and musicians we've lost to suicides, overdoses, and automobile “accidents” — all of which were way too soon. It seems that the immense pressures that many of the Hollywood and limelight elite deal with are suddenly becoming norms for many everyday people and artists. The idea that we must always be making our lives seem like one endless success-party, all for the sake of appearing as busy, worthwhile artists is jarring, but one that is seemingly accepted in today's world. Yet, just like anything else we do for the sake of our art and to make a living we somehow justify the irrational behavior. When King brought up his struggles in the days and weeks and months after he was part of something big like speaking at WPPI, working with Profoto on the new B2 lighting series, or the rush of bookings after being featured on the Fox 29 news, only to then deal with coming home and suddenly be alone again, I couldn't help but sympathize with that feeling — one I've known all too well over the years. Everyone tells you you're crazy to take on the peaks and valleys that come with being a career creative, but we all agree the highs make the lows very worth it. However, that doesn't mean the valleys aren't very dark times, because they can be. This sudden rise to a level of notoriety had King reeling, wondering why he was suddenly an inspiration to so many, and leaving him to feel on edge about saying or doing the wrong thing that could have everything taken away just as quickly. Everyone in today's society knows one undeniable truth: the mob is fickle.

Speaking about the downtime after a successful period, King gets visibly upset, asking, “Why is it we can't talk about this shit?”

© 2015 Jaleel King |

I really couldn't find a good answer to this as I've been a victim to these periods in my creative and personal life as well. King went on to tell me that the false sense of success on social media from likes and followers has made him take a break from it all and said he hasn't even posted a photo on Facebook in almost a year. As a photographer I was taken aback, but then when I thought about my own Facebook photography page, I realized it's been nothing but Instagram posts and occasional shots of my kids for the last year too. Like many artists, I'd dealt with times of being burnt out on my art leading me to take a part-time gig or a full-time job over the years just to provide some sense of a break, as a way of building my yearning to create back up again.

Worry about being true to yourself and everything else will come.

— Jaleel King

For many of us these time periods are when family members and loved ones pull you up out of your funk. However, there are times when someone simply being nice and looking out for you has you questioning why or what their agenda is; we as humans are notorious for self-deprecation, especially artists. We don't think we're worth even having a friend who really cares about us and wants to see us feel better, we look back at our successes and see them as simply not enough. King talks about a WPPI photo contest he entered a couple years ago where he won second place (Photojournalism/Non-Wedding category) — yet only afterward mentions that out of the top 10 final images selected to pick out the winners, four of them were his. He admits that he rarely remembers to take pride in that fact; it seems we only see the negative in our accomplishments as a way of pushing ourselves for more, to do better and grow as artists.

Sure some may think we're just being dramatic about it all, but just think of any A-list celebrity you admire after they win an Oscar or Grammy. That one amazing success is so short lived before the pressures set in again. Will I be able to repeat this success again? Or will I be labeled a one-hit wonder? This constant struggle to find repeatability in success to have clients, agencies, and studios know that you're dependable and consistent makes us lose sight of the little victories along the way. It's this sort of feeling that is notorious with writers, whom society thinks have endless ideas and books just brimming inside of them waiting to put them to paper for everyone to enjoy. All this to simply stay relevant in a world of instant gratification.

When does one then simply enjoy their success?

Yet, it's not all doom and gloom for King. Recently he's been learning to accept help from others and just learn to say “why not?” as opposed to making all the excuses as to why he can't or shouldn't do it. It's been this thinking that recently had him go all the way to Australia to speak at the Zero Regrets Conference, which was a life-changing experience for him. However, it wasn't always easy and after spending an amazing three weeks in Australia with inspirational creatives like Jeremy Cowart, James Day, Oli Sansom, and of course the Zero Regrets founders, Matt and Katie Ebenezer, it was the coming home off that endorphin high to be alone, again, that brought King crashing to a halt.

Back left to right: Matt Ebenezer, Nick Balera, Jeremy Cowart, Tim King, Benj Haisch, Oli Samson, James Day. Front left to right: Josh Mikhaiel, Jaleel King, Jonathan Suckling. Photo by: Kate Ebenezer

Jaleel being carried into the water to get the shot he needed by James Day. Photo by: Josh Mikhaiel

Manic-depressive behavior for any creative is not that far of a reach. And how could you blame us? Times with tons of interaction, motivation, and collaboration followed by stark periods of isolation and working in a vacuum. It's this issue of always being inside looking out that makes us miss the most obvious things at times. Whenever King has those moments, somehow the universe reaches out with some good karma — like a friend or acquaintance reaching out with some genuine thanks or even a random email from a stranger who says King literally saved his life as they had been struggling with suicidal thoughts. Things like these always seem to come at just the right time. Professionally, the highs came calling once again with Profoto reaching out to let King know that he'd been added to their official speaker list which led to him speaking at the Hallmark Institute in Massachusetts to an eager crowd of young students who loved hearing his story.

To be honest, I really had no idea when we set aside time to meet for lunch and catch up that we'd suddenly be talking for an entire afternoon about such deep topics that affected us both for years. In doing so we both realized that this is a much bigger problem than anyone is really letting on. Mental health in this country is an enormous issue, especially so if we let it lurk in the shadows not allow it to be spoken about in public. King and I hope that you're able to pass this along to any friends in the creative arts who seem to struggle as well with the roller-coaster lifestyle that comes with making a living off art, to simply let them know they're not alone. To learn to accept help when it presents itself and if not, to have the courage to go out and ask for it.

In efforts to continue staying busy, you can join Jaleel King at PhotoPlus Expo in NYC later this month, where he'll be doing a photowalk: “Street Photography: Finding Life, Subjects and Portraits.

All images used with permission.

. . . .

Please after reading the following piece, if you enjoyed it, please share with your network in an effort to get the word out that depression isn’t a dirty word, and it needs to be talked about more today than ever before. Thank you.

You are NOT alone.

Erasing the stigma behind depression + suicidal thoughts. If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts call 1–800–273-TALK (8255).

Log in or register to post comments


Anonymous's picture

Thank you for posting this Jose. Very good timing as it is mental health week in Australia.Depression is just not for creative people but can affect everyone.I have had my bouts with this and have posted about it on my blog.Once you have recovered from a bout of severe depression it is probably a given that you want to share with others how you got through it.Since first being struck down with a severe anxiety when 20 I have been on a personal crusade,Sometimes those closet to you are the hardest to reach though.The one thing I am certain of is that a diagnosis is not the end of the world and does not have to rule your life.Depression is never far away from striking hard. I am aware now that I am not invincible from repeats but i do know there are steps I can take for prevention.It is so important to talk about this to family and friends.Cheers.

Jose Rosado's picture

Didn't realize it until after I posted it that this week was mental health awareness week as well in the US. Thanks for posting your blog post about your fight, it was a great read as well and one of the first tell tale signs - losing complete interest in once loved hobbies + passions. Keep your head up and continue the progress.

Anonymous's picture

Great article, especially since I'm going over my latest competition entries this morning and having an 'I suck' moment...

Jose Rosado's picture

Ha it's always part of the process isn't it? :)

Brian Carpenter's picture

Great write-up. I've found it good to disconnect from social media from time to time and re-center.

Jose Rosado's picture

Thanks, Brian - had a similar break this past year and it's definitely helped give me some more perspective.

Mike Denison's picture

There is nothing worse, then going through hell of depression. You wake up each day, not knowing if you will make it
'till night, or you will simply give in, and end it all yourself. The drugs sometimes help, and sometimes make it worse.
Felt like I had no control whatsoever over my own life. It took me a while, but I managed to teach myself how to push trough the day, and keep on fighting.
In the end, it all comes down to helping yourself get up and fight. For anyone suffering from depression,
I recommend something that has helped me a lot. It is James Gordon’s system at
He is a former depression sufferer, and teaches a totally natural 7 step process which relieves depression from your life.

Jose Rosado's picture

Thanks for the link, Mike - it's definitely something to share especially that this week is mental health awareness week. Keep on staying positive.

Amazing!! Depression affects so many, some more than others. As someone who struggles everyday, we can't be afraid of talking on such important and life changing topics as depression.

Jose Rosado's picture

Yes, Greg - it's sad that it's so taboo in our society to talk about. It definitely needs to change.

Stephen Vosloo's picture

I read every single word of this post. So much of it rings true for me and I love that this conversation is happening. Thank you for sharing something so vulnerable. Neither of you are alone in what you're experiencing. I know from experience that this is more common in the creative community than we'd all want to admit, yet it's one of the things that is least talked about. Shout it out from the rooftops, more people need to hear that they're not alone. The more we talk about this and dispel the stigma attached to depression and anxiety that so many people struggle with the easier it will become for folks to reach out for help.

Jose Rosado's picture

Thanks, Stephen, it's something I've always been vocal about but after catching up with Jaleel, realized it needed to be talked about on a bigger platform. Only by talking about it more, will we ever be able to make a difference with it.

Stephen Vosloo's picture

100% agree, so true Jose. Thanks again for sharing

Daniel LLOYD's picture

As someone who has suffered from depression for 7 years I really appreciated this article.
I tip my hat to you sir (If i had a hat)

Jose Rosado's picture

Thanks, Daniel, appreciate it! Please share to help get the word out.

Deirdre Ryan's picture

Thank you.

Jose Rosado's picture

You're very welcome, Deirdre. Thank you for taking the time out to read the article!

Clinton Green's picture

I too suffering from this awful illness, for 25 years. I am unable to work, as a result of depression. After's years of struggling with finding the right treatment, I am finally been able to feel hope and the desire to move on. I can best describe the depression I struggled with, as a metaphor to Washington Irving classic book "Rip Van Winkle" After 20 years of struggling with this depression, I woke up one morning, and the world wasn't the same anymore. I am starting to feel the sensation of a new life. I wanna share, how I see the world, through my lens. With my new compassion of photography.

Jose Rosado's picture

Thanks Clinton for sharing your story, glad you were able to get the help you needed.