Can photography improve mental health? Most of us have heard the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” and increasingly research suggests that photography can improve mental wellbeing. Our creative:discovery project was developed in collaboration with MIND in Tower Hamlets and Newham and is funded by Reed Smith. Over one block of six weeks, participants explored different photographic styles with our professional photographer Alicia Clarke. Colin told us his story.
“Taking part in Create’s photography workshops has had a big impact on my life. Mind in Tower Hamlets and Newham is a really important place for me. It helps me a lot. I started coming when my doctor recommended it. I suffer with anxiety and depression and I get flashbacks, like a bit of PTSD, I wasn’t in the army or anything but I had some bad experiences.
“I didn’t really get a lot of interaction before I started coming to MIND and I didn’t really have friends I could talk to. I was a bit of a loner and depressed for a long time. At first, I joined the walking group and after a while I really started to enjoy it. I liked getting out to new places and having people to talk to. When I first heard about the Create photography programme I just ran and asked if I could give it a try. I did actually have a panic attack in the first-ever [workshop]: we had to pick stuff off the ground because we were doing sun prints and I’m a bit germaphobic. Thankfully, one of the Create volunteers helped me out and let me direct them so I managed to get some really good prints that day and I did really enjoy it.
“I liked getting out to new places and having people to talk to. When I first heard about the Create photography programme I just ran and asked if I could give it a try”
“I like photography, it gets me away from the usual thing like being at home, TV and games. It’s nice just to get out and do something creative. It has given me a bit of a purpose really. I decided to save up and buy my own camera after the first photography project that I did with Create. I wanted to keep taking photos before the next project. I’ve always liked the idea of the old Polaroids and I thought I would get an Instax camera because they are really reliable. I go out on a Wednesday or Sunday with my mum because I’ve got a bit of anxiety issues. When I’m out I like taking close-ups of flowers and animals. It’s like an escape. Photography has helped me to break out of myself and stop being stuck in my room in front of a screen with depression all the time. It has given me a purpose to get away from it and to start doing something creative for me.
“It’s like an escape. Photography has helped me to break out of myself and stop being stuck in my room”
“In September, after the first Create photography project, I got an email from someone at the Lansbury Micro Museum. It’s an exhibition space in Poplar that the V&A organises. They wanted people’s collections for an exhibition so I handed in a couple of Instax photos on the off chance when they were opening. Then they asked for me to send them a few more because they wanted them in the museum!
“I got to choose how to have the photos up and someone at the museum wrote a piece about them and me (Colin from Poplar). They were there for about a month. It was my first year actually taking photos so it was a bit of a shock. I was also given some complimentary tickets to go and see the Tim Walker exhibition at the actual V&A, which I really enjoyed.
Can photography improve mental health? Researchers at the University of Lancaster think so.
“There was a closing event party and they opened the museum one last time. People were coming up to me and stopping me and complimenting me on my photos and that was quite nice. They liked my photos, they made a big fuss about my rainbow photo. Someone did say to me that if I ever saw them in the market they would like to see more of my photos.
“I’m really glad that Create is running another series of photography workshops at MIND. We did sun prints again last week and actually I wasn’t too bad in terms of anxiety. I’m out every week with my mum, taking photos in my own time. I’m looking forward to trying some more prism photography, I’m going to try using squares and diamond shapes and maybe using magnifying glasses for different effects.
“Photography gets me out and creativity gives me a purpose. I enjoy doing something creative for myself.”