Using photography to understand the experiences and perspectives of residents in long term mental healthcare residential settings in Dublin.
Tom Elkins and Natasha Mulder
Health Service Executive (HSE)
‘Storytelling with Photographs’ is a project developed with PhotoVoice and HSE, which took place in March 2022.
The project looked at the experiences and perspectives of residents in long-term mental healthcare residential settings. All residents were considered high support, and received 24 hour nursing provision.
Over the course of a two-week period, PhotoVoice delivered a series of photographic storytelling workshops with ten residents, and separate workshops with six staff working in different roles within the service. All participants were based in and around Dublin, and the workshops took place in a variety of settings, including the healthcare facilities.
The aim of the project was to engage with different perspectives, as part of a programme to improve service provision, based on the insights shared. The PhotoVoice component will contribute to a larger research piece, which will use the images and stories as a starting point for further engagement.
The vision of the National Housing Strategy for Disabled People 2011–2016 is to work towards facilitating access for people with disabilities, including those with mental health difficulties, to an appropriate range of housing and related support services. A Vision for Change and its follow on; Sharing the Vision have highlighted that many people in HSE hostel accommodation would be better off living more independently in the community.
Staff and residents were invited to share their views on a range of topics, and encouraged to explore ways to share their own priorities. PhotoVoice’s approach enables engagement and access in a way which goes beyond other forms of research.
Workshops included sessions on visual literacy, learning how to use a digital camera, photographic storytelling and copyright and consent. As well as group sessions PhotoVoice staff supported residents in a 1:1 setting at their homes enabling participants to feel more comfortable and support the development of their stories.
Throughout the workshops, participants were encouraged to consider how photography could be used as a tool of communication. Photographic activities were assigned which participants could interpret in their own way.
Participant enthusiasm during the workshops led to a total of 93 images being shared by both staff and residents.
After each session, short debriefs on the sessions were also held between staff from PhotoVoice and the project lead.
Each resident was supported to produce a series of photographs and captions in response to the prompts and express their control over which images they wanted to share beyond the ‘safe space’ of the workshops.
Residents selected which images and captions they wanted to exhibit as well as who to invite, increasing their sense of ownership over the images.
A booklet of over 100 pages containing participant images and captions was produced which will be used by the project team and researchers to inform and develop the next part of the project.
Participants learnt new ways of telling their story, 100% felt they had come away having learnt a new skill they could use in the future.
“I just loved everything about it! It was amazing!!”
“An interesting and different way of thinking”