Perspectives of The Sierra: Living with mental illness in rural communities in Mexico

Inspired by PhotoVoice and with help of our manual, documentary photographer Camila Jurado produced her own participatory photography project in Mexico to address stigma and challenge misconceptions around mental illness.

Stigma is one of the major problems that people who suffer from mental illness face. It is common that in the eyes of society they feel judged and misunderstood, which stops them from looking for help. In the mountains of the poorest State in Mexico resources to address mental health problems are extremely limited.

This project was undertaken in two communities: Honduras and La Soledad, both are located deep into the mountains, seven hours away from the state capital.These are just two of the ten communities in the region that are supported by the organisation Partners in Health, who now provide medical staff and medication for the communities.

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They estimate that the prevalence of depression in these communities reaches 7.8%, and is one of the primary reasons for consultation in the clinics. Poverty, lack of opportunities and gender violence are some of the issues that have been identified by patients.

I collaborated with the mental health department of Partners in Health to design an intervention based on the photovoice methodology. Our aim was to reduce stigma by empowering patients and giving them the tools and knowledge to tell their own stories and provide a platform for self-guided reflection, reconciliation and an open group dialogue about mental health. The course was both theoretical and practical, each participant was given a camera for two weeks and they were encouraged to develop their own personal photography project.

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On the final day, each participant presented their images to their friends, family and to the volunteer team. The results were incredibly positive in so many ways.

I remember how alien the camera was for them at the beginning but little by little they started to get more and more curious about what the camera could do. Even though they had never taken a picture before, each participant found a special connection with the camera and for me it was mesmerising to see them learning a new form of language from scratch.

When you take photos you feel peaceful. 

Participant, aged 56.

It was incredible to see how photography allows people to explore internal worlds that have never been externalised before, and helps them to make that transition in a very spontaneous and creative way. In this case, most of the patients had severe depression or anxiety, which meant the start of the project was a challenge for them. However, after a while they began to contemplate their lives from a completely different perspective; they became active seekers of communication. It was beautiful to watch.

The workshop was also a great catalyst for family integration. One of participants said the following:

Sometimes because of so much work you forget to talk about life. I realised that I should appreciate my family more. I was thinking about this during the workshop.It made me recognise my family, be more united and live more in harmony

Participant, aged 62.

But also, in the end relatives said they learned something they did not know about their family member and that now have a better understanding of their illness. This is an incredibly valuable change in people’s daily dynamics and directly tackles the problem of stigma.

So, never underestimate the power of photography!

Thanks to PhotoVoice for inspiring us and for sharing.

To find out more about the project and see more of the images please click here or follow Camila on Instagram 

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