Visual reflections of mental health

Facilitating the promoting the narratives of ethnic minority people with lived experience of severe mental illness was at the heart of our public engagement project: Visual Reflections of Mental Health: Realities of Severe Mental Illness for Ethnic Minority People.

It was informed by a powerful and well-established method (‘photovoice’) of authentic and meaningful co-creation in health care and was funded by the QMUL Centre for Public Engagement’s Large Grant.

A series of workshops were held with service users and carers in partnership with organisations including LMCP, African and Caribbean Mental Health Services, the Psychosis Therapy Project at Islington Mind and Mind in Haringey.

Participants were given disposable cameras and notepads to keep track of their ideas and thoughts and could take pictures of anything that they wanted in line with their experience of living with mental illness and the world around them.

We hosted seven introductory and photo reflection workshops and three photo exhibitions at local mental health charities in London and Manchester. In total 21 people – including 19 service users and two carers – from a diversity of ethnic minority backgrounds were involved.

The feedback from participants and participating organisations has been very positive. Having an opportunity to capture photos of their lived experiences of mental illness and mental health care was reported by participants to be a well-suited and creative method. It enabled people, marginalised from the mainstream policy and practice debate, to share their knowledge and expertise.

Below are examples of feedback from participants:

“The thing about taking pictures I think is very helpful … Because when you look at the picture, the picture is always there for you … and then you can share to people about, I can ask you ‘can you look at this picture?’ … I can show and ask: ‘Do you see what I see now?’ … and then they say, ‘Yes’ and you know that at least you’re not alone. In this society, still a lot people have similar problems to you, so maybe you feel that you feel a bit better in that way.”

“We talk about these things all the time and are told to write these things down but to take photographs like these is better – it helps us to concentrate and focus on what matters.”

“The day was very informative and involved creative discussions on how we can better capture people’s views and experiences.”

The return rate of photos and personal notes has also been relatively high (76.19 percent). Participants have been committed to the task and the photo reflection workshops have provided a safe space to reflect on their own lives and engage with sensitive topics that they may not have otherwise shared.

The project is being progressed as part of the Synergi Collaborative Centre’s activities and will be showcased through the new Synergi Stories portal, which will give those with lived experience and carers the chance to upload their narratives as blog posts, images, audio and videos.

Hosting two end of project exhibitions in London on 26 September 2018 (Bush Theatre) and Manchester on 8 October 2018 (Z-Arts) gave participants the opportunity to view the work generated from across the project, alongside an invited and public audience.

These public exhibitions built on the smaller exhibitions held at local community centres and was used to galvanise momentum to attract a larger audience, including influential stakeholders to capture narratives around ethnic inequalities in mental health and engage them. We also hope to motivate health systems improvements, informed primarily by people’s experiences of mental health care.

The project already has a legacy beyond the end of project exhibitions. The Centre for Public Engagement has the exhibition on display in the Queens Building foyer. The African and Caribbean Mental Health Services will also host a semi-permanent foyer exhibition in Manchester.

This will not only give more people a chance to see the project’s value, but also provides added value for the participants to know that their work is being appreciated and impactful post project.

We hope that the participants’ narratives will inform future priorities for mental health and we are already exploring ways to build on its achievements.