Doll Hospital: An Art and Literary Journal on Mental Health
When Doll Hospital was first brought to my attention, I was definitely intrigued. Now, after learning more about it from founder Bethany Lamont and writer Lydia Suffield, I’m practically in love.
When and how was Doll Hospital created?
Bethany Lamont: Doll Hospital was created in May 2014 during my final term as a Masters student at Oxford University. I was 22 and struggling with suicidal ideation, psychosis (and other fun things), and Twitter was my only space to talk about it. After like, a week, my irl friends told me stop tweeting about how much I wanted to kill myself as it was freaking everyone out, so I sent out a different kind of tweet — a call for submissions for a mental health publication — and it blew up from there.
What is Doll Hospital‘s mission?
Bethany Lamont: Doll Hospital’s aim is to create a space for people with mental health struggles to speak on their own terms and in their own time. Narratives are powerful, and our journal seeks to go beyond simplistic notions of recovery and inspiration and acknowledge the messiness of mental illness.
I struggle with my mental health every day, and I just want Doll Hospital readers to know that it’s okay to not have your shit together and that by accepting our collective cluelessness, we can create something beautiful and help each other rather than projecting an unrealistic image of perfection, which is so tempting in these digital times.
I especially want our readers to know that you don’t need to have a corny head shot and a blue tick on your Twitter to talk about your experiences; you don’t need to be “over” your mental illness to talk about your mental illness. You don’t need a PhD in psychology to speak with authority. You don’t need to sound like some Better Call Saul style Ted Talk dude for your voice to matter. It already does. And we’re listening.
How did Doll Hospital get its name?
Bethany Lamont: The phrase ‘Doll Hospital’ comes from the S/S 2012 issue of AnOther Magazine. The writer Joe Dunthorne (who I actually used to go see read weird poetry about Tom Cruise at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club before he got more like famous or whatever) curated a fashion shoot organizing all these neat quotes in conversation with the photographs, and there was this one quote that totally stuck out, which went:
“The doll hospital in Paris
is piled high with disembodied limbs
Henry Launay has repaired over thirty thousand dolls.
They’re sick, they’re broken and I give them new life.”
And that stayed with me. I was severely anorexic, I wasn’t getting the right help for my depression, I was going through bouts of psychosis (which was super scary) whilst also coming to terms with survivor feelz. At the same time I was also writing my undergraduate thesis on white capitalist constructions of the so-called “culture of childhood” and organizing my degree show, which mostly consisted of me convincing people in the Royal Academy I was a child prodigy.
So these notions of deconstructed childhood, painful periods of growth, and disembodied trauma — particularly in relation to these colonial notions of white innocence and girlhood (which ironically rob girls of color of their own innocence) — became an obsession encapsulated in these two words! I did mood boards on it, I named all my social media accounts after it (and also like my disco zoo account), and then two years later, when I knew I wanted to start a mental health journal, it made sense for it to be called Doll Hospital also!
The notion of a Doll Hospital is also potent when it comes to mental health narratives as I’m interested in breaking everything apart and creating something new. I’m tired of romanticized notions of the young mentally ill white women as a static figure of divine inspiration. Such a trope objectifies white women whilst alienating woman of color such as myself! I’m interested in acknowledging these stereotypes and using their remains to create something new, something that allows us to speak on our terms, because there is no “one” story on mental health and, like, even if there was, it definitely wouldn’t be Kirsten Dunst on a unicorn!
I love that there will be both physical copies and electronic copies available of the issues. While there are suggested payments for each, what are the thoughts behind the “pay-as-you-wish” feature?
Bethany Lamont: I’m from a working class background; most of my friends, and many of our team, are from working class backgrounds, and I was raised by a young unmarried single mother on welfare. We live in an age of austerity where notions of disposable income are totally outdated and most people can’t even afford their central heating. So to put a compulsory charge for something like Doll Hospital didn’t make sense to me. It’d be like the paradox of those college papers on poverty which have a pay block behind them, right? That just seems so messed up to me, and I don’t want a part in it.
The current culture of supposedly “radical” printing is deeply bourgeois, and a copy of Adbusters is as overpriced as a Starbucks Frappuccino. The content of a publication is irrelevant if the people who need it most can’t access it. We also donate copies for free to rape crisis centers and mental health wards, and as the journal grows, I’d love for that to be the central model of distribution. Because in all honesty, I don’t care how much people donate (our pay as you wish option goes down as low as 1p) as long as they get to read it.
About how often is there a new edition of Doll Hospital? Will each edition come with a mix tape, like the first issue did?
Bethany Lamont: Each copy of Doll Hospital is pretty thick, like our next issue is gonna be even bigger than our first. We take the time to work with each contributor in their writing and edit their submission to help it grow (so many small publications don’t edit people’s work; they either publish it as is or reject it outright, which I think is a shame, in all honesty). As a result it takes around six months to get an issue together, which is also partly due to the fact that we do this unpaid in our free time. We’ve only put out one issue so far, so we’re still figuring it out, but hopefully twice a year.
And, for sure! I love making mixes, and I’m pretty sure all our staffers do too. I actually just finished making one that is like…40 tracks long for this essay I wrote for the next issue on how Charlie Kelly is my survival twin (I’m currently binge watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia and have a very deep connection with Charlie!); and, Mikael, who wrote this amazing essay on depression for our first issue, is drawing up the track list in cool font right now. We also have a bunch of other mixes in our 2nd issue too, so I’ll make sure we find the perfect (non-Charlie-Kelly-related) one to complement our second issue! It really surprised me how much people were into the mixes; I have had at least half a dozen really profound conversations from our readers on the song “Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog, which is, y’know, amazing.
About how many people are currently involved with Doll Hospital? Can anyone become a part of it? Are there any positions that Doll Hospital is currently trying to fill?
Bethany Lamont: Oh, man, I don’t know…I should know that. Like a hundred? Maybe more? I hate to think how many hours a day I spend answering emails. In terms of positions, my editorial angel Hanna is working on developing our events and social media side, which I am zero help in as I am the most unsociable person alive and have like three irl friends. So, if you are a more functioning member of society than I am (which isn’t difficult, to be honest), you should totally work with her to do awesome things.
And yeah, totally, if you wanna be involved, you’re in! I’ve been working for magazines since I was a teenager, and I hate how cliquey it is, even in supposedly radical circles or whatever. Like, I’m going on record here to say I don’t care about your clips, or your qualifications, or how established you are, or how old you are, or who follows you on Tumblr. If you have a story you wanna tell, a doodle you wanna share, then I’m ridiculously excited to see it.
What is it that you, Lydia, personally do for Doll Hospital?
Lydia Suffield: I’m a writer/contributor for Doll Hospital, which means that, primarily, I write articles that have, so far, detailed my own personal experience with mental health and the different ways it’s affected my life. However, I also try to raise awareness about Doll Hospital through whatever ways I can, which includes contacting people I think might be interested or find the project relevant to their lives in some way — both to see if they themselves want to be involved and also to get the message of Doll Hospital to as many people as possible.
One of the people I emailed was Jennifer Niven, who was the first person to suggest that Germ might like to feature Doll Hospital as one of its Bright Places; and, I also contacted authors, like Stephanie Kuehnert, who have spoken and written openly about their own experiences of mental illness. I always really admire these people, and their openness about their experiences is partly what drives me to be more open and honest about my own mental health when writing for Doll Hospital. I know how isolating it can feel when you’re suffering from mental illness and to have someone out there basically saying, “Hey, I get this too. You’re not alone,” can make a huge, huge difference.
When did you join, and how has your experience been so far?
Lydia Suffield: I actually remember where I was when I first heard about Doll Hospital, and weirdly enough, I’m heading to exactly the same place now! (I’m answering these questions in the car on the motorway — not driving, fortunately!) I was on holiday when I first heard about Doll Hospital, sitting on a couch overlooking a lake, eating pancakes and scrolling through Tavi Gevinson’s Twitter feed. I saw that she’d mentioned something about Doll Hospital, which at the time, was just an idea from Bethany. Tavi — who is also a contributor — had mentioned that it was a zine about mental health (which she has also discussed publicly), and at the time, I thought that that would be something I’d love to be a part of. I’d just started tentatively embarking on my own writing career, as well as starting my own blog, and I already knew mental health was something I’d love to bring more awareness to. I was originally going to contact Tavi to ask her how she got involved, but being Tavi Gevinson, you do not exactly just email her! Luckily, she’d linked to the page, and I read Bethany’s call for contributors! The more I read about it, the more I thought it was a great idea, and so when I got home, I emailed Bethany to ask if it was still possible to become a part of the project. I was super nervous emailing her because I’m one of those people who always thinks that I’m bothering people when I get in touch with them and agonizes for about twenty hours over each sentence! But something about Bethany’s voice just really connected with me, and I remember just reading the page where she asked for contributors thinking, Yeah, I want to work with her.
And then Bethany replied and was super nice and friendly and generally one of the loveliest people you could ever talk to! She asked me to send in a piece of writing, and luckily, she really liked it! It took a few months for the first issue to actually come out because it was a new project, and, obviously, everything had to be put together and organized. But throughout the whole time, Bethany would always keep in touch with me and let me know what was going on, and we hit it off really well. So, my experience has been amazing and really, really supportive! I’m lucky enough to be able to call Bethany a friend, and we are very, very lucky to have her as our founder!
Can anyone submit to Doll Hospital?
Lydia Suffield: Yep! Anyone can submit to Doll Hospital. That’s how I got to be a contributor! I emailed Bethany to send in my submission piece, but you can also get in touch through the Doll Hospital submissions email address! We always like hearing from new people, so don’t be nervous to get in touch because everyone’s super friendly, and the more contributors we have, the more content we can produce and the more people we can reach!
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