As Covid-19 lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing contribute to the worsening state of mental health in Hong Kong and many other parts of the world, Sravya Attaluri’s work has become even more relevant. “My endeavour is to use art to break mental health stigmas , champion body confidence and promote diversity,” says the 26-year-old Hong Kong-based artist with more than 34,000 followers on her Instagram account, @sravyaa. Attaluri calls herself an “artivist”, combining the words artist and activist. In 2019, she started Draw For Mental Health, a platform for Hong Kong artists to share their mental health struggles through their work. In July 2021, the group organised an exhibition titled “Journey to Self” , showcasing the work of 10 artists. “My desire is to cultivate the concept of a positive mental health culture in the city and to challenge the normalised high-stress lifestyle that Hong Kong residents lead ,” says Attaluri, who this year also launched online store Hello Colour, selling products such as mindfulness cards, door hangers and stickers that promote mental well-being. Attaluri has created art for human rights organisations, mental health charities and multinational organisations. Earlier this year, Facebook hired Attaluri as its creative partner for Instagram’s “How To Keep Your Heart Happy” campaign. It educates and empowers girls and women, through videos, to use the new safety tools on Instagram to create a safe environment for them. She also heads the design team for Our Streets Now, a campaign to end public sexual harassment in Britain through cultural and legislative change. How sharing mental health stories helps break down taboos Attaluri is no stranger to mental health issues. Born in India, Attaluri’s family moved to South Korea when she was five, and then to Hong Kong three years after. As a teenager, she grappled with depression , eating disorders and body image issues . “Moving countries and fitting in was hard. I did not speak Korean or Cantonese, and struggled to make deep connections with people,” says Attaluri, who took art in Seoul and communicated with her non-English-speaking teacher through her paintings. “From a young age, I found confidence and solace in expressing myself through my artwork. My grandmother’s death, when I was 15, left me devastated. It triggered questions about life, faith and existence,” she says. She started drawing to cope with her grief and depression, and found it an outlet and mirror for her emotions. In 2014, as a 19-year-old second-year studying Fine Arts at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in the United States, Attaluri had a physical and mental breakdown and tried to kill herself. “I had a toxic group of friends, low self-confidence and was unaware that I had been depressed for a long time,” says Attaluri, who credits her parents for saving her. They brought her back to Hong Kong, where she underwent therapy and took a year’s leave of absence from education. Her family realised that her depression was real – a result of not having the right tools to cope, not addressing family trauma and not communicating. Her parents underwent therapy, too, to better family relationships. ‘Who am I?’ Issues cross-cultural teens face and how to deal with them “As a family, we changed the way we expressed our emotions, supported each other and tackled challenges,” says Attaluri. Attaluri went back to university and made the dean’s list. “My graduation day is etched in my memory. It is a day that reminds me how I pulled myself out of depression and worked hard to rediscover my passion,” says Attaluri, for whom expressing herself through her paintings was cathartic . “The making and experiencing of art has had thousands of years of documented positive impact on individuals,” says Dr Mark Greene, a psychotherapist at Lifespan Counselling in Hong Kong. “Entire schools of psychotherapy that are based on expression through artistic means, whether in the form of drawing, painting and sculpting (art therapy), or dance, singing and drama (expressive arts therapy) show how entwined the arts are with positive expression and opportunities for promoting mental well-being,” Greene adds. Attaluri soon discovered a way to share the emotional support that art gave her with others. “At a conference on creativity, I saw a young artist demonstrate her illustrations on an iPad. I got the idea to combine my expressive paintings with visual communication to create artworks that educate, and motivate, others to take action on mental health issues that they may be facing,” she says. Art therapy for cancer patients: mandalas work their magic Attaluri started a 100-day challenge on Instagram in 2018 to draw and post an image every day. “I was struggling with anxiety at the time, and wanted to use this opportunity to illustrate my daily emotions. This personal project transformed into a visual of my mental health journey, and I was surprised to see how the images resonated with others,” she says. In 2019, Attaluri – then 24 – quit her job as a senior graphic designer at an advertising agency to pursue her dream of being an independent artist. Daily happiness forms the basis of her current work. “My art will always reflect the state of my mental health and fluctuate between darker and lighter shades, but it has been and always will be about the pursuit of happiness,” says Attaluri. Her day starts with daily doodles, an art therapy practice that involves drawing whatever comes to mind, and which helps her reflect on her feelings. “I had to overcome self-doubt after years of believing that I wasn’t good enough. I sought approval and validity from people around me who did not see value in my career path. I learned that I had to focus on myself, my passion, to take risks and chase my dream,” she says. She draws energy from her family and friends and the meaningful conversations they have about mental health and spirituality. “These dialogues become the base for my artwork and inspire me to go deeper into my interests,” she says. “My aim is to create art with honest messages that provoke conversations on mental health and change how we as a society perceive mental health and mental illness.” Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .