247833 Images that empower: Refocusing the use of photography in mental health

Monday, October 31, 2011: 3:26 PM

Christopher R. Larrison, PhD , School of Social Work, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Samantha Hack-Ritzo, MSW , School of Social Work, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Objective: Photography is routinely used to expose the dark side of mental illness and mental health care. Even when the intentions are good, the voyeuristic results portray patients and their settings as alien and frightening. In contrast, we use photography to explore successful treatment, a theme too often absent from the discourse about mental health care and nearly unseen in the 125 plus years of photography related to mental illness.

Methods: The 25 patient/staff pairs invited for portraits and interviews came from 10 community mental health agencies (CMHAs). Staff had been mental health professionals for a median of 6 years. Patients had received services at the CMHA for a median of 7.5 years. The majority of patients were diagnosed with schizophrenia (55%), prescribed medication (77%), and received a median of 19.4 hours of services over a 90 day period. On a scale of 1 to 5, with one being most positive, patients rated their general satisfaction with services an average of 1.16 (SD=.22).

Results: The portraits, which will be presented, uniquely captured people who listened attentively to each other, laughingly teased one another, and who rose above the limited roles of professional and patient. The narratives from the interviews contained themes of mutual respect, equality, and support across multiple aspects of life.

Conclusion: Far from the stark photographs of earlier eras or the resoundingly negative assessments of mental health care today, the portraits and interviews provide ample evidence of patients experiencing stable symptomology and positive relationships with their providers.

Learning Areas:
Advocacy for health and health education
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
1) Participants will discuss photography’s historic use to highlight forgotten or neglected aspects of mental health care. 2) Participants will evaluate the use of portraiture, its revealing nature, and how it can personalize the abstraction of mental illness and mental health care in ways that are largely not possible when patients’ anonymity is maintained. 3) Participants will analyze the role of successful treatment in the cultural zeitgeist associated with mental illness and mental health care.

Keywords: Mental Illness, Outcomes Research

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to present because I have 15 years of experience working and conducting research with individuals experiencing a serious mental illness, who are receiving outpatient behavioral health services at community mental health agencies.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.