I have been fortunate enough never to have experienced mental health issues at first hand. That’s not to say I never will, but not so far. So you might wonder what I’m doing writing this blog for the World Health Organisation’s World Mental Health Day 2017, the theme of which is mental health in the workplace.
Before I took early retirement and became a photographer I worked for some 30 years in Human Resources, where I saw – and I guess participated in – mental illness being managed with varying degrees of success. More recently, a number of people close to me, including my business partner Lisa, have spoken and written openly about their own mental health, and I like to think I have learnt something along the way about how to be a good friend and colleague.
You might know about the Open Shutters project that Lisa and I have been leading, asking people to have their portrait taken and say something – in writing or to camera – about how they have turned their mental health issues to their advantage, and to give one piece of advice to others in a similar situation. Without fail, that advice has involved the vital importance of finding someone to talk to and not keeping things bottled up. If you’d like to read more about the Open Shutters Project, click here.
So with that experience and, I hope, improved understanding, here are my tips if you have friends, family or work colleagues who are experiencing mental health problems, and you’ll almost certainly know someone in that situation, whether or not you’re aware of it.
- Listen! If the need to talk to someone is critically important for people with mental health issues, then it’s equally important to have someone to listen. Actually listen. Not half an ear while you’re checking on Facebook or posting a picture of your lunch on Instagram. There’s a useful guide to Active Listening here . It’s skill that will improve with practice, so give it a try. You’ll have better conversations, and people will know you care enough to give them your undivided attention.
- Be prepared for the conversation to take up some of your time, and give that time freely and ungrudgingly. If you’ve ever tried talking to someone who is constantly looking at their watch, you’ll know how uncomfortable that can make you feel.
- Go easy on the questions. Active listening may involve asking some questions to ensure you’re understanding what you’re hearing, but that’s not the same as bombarding your friend or colleague with demands for further details. Often people will have deeply personal issues that they don’t want to talk about. If they do choose to open up, that’s fine, but you don’t have a right to be told anything.
- People may cry: deal with it. If someone is upset, and cries when they’re talking to you, just let them, it’s OK. Don’t tell them not to cry, or not to get upset. The last thing they need is to think that they are behaving inappropriately, or upsetting or embarrassing you. Just offer them a tissue and carry on listening.
- Not every problem has a solution. When we’re told that someone has a problem, it’s our instinct (particularly men) to suggest a solution or to offer to fix things. Resist that temptation. Let the person talk things through: generally if your advice is required, it will be asked for.
- Big hugs hun! I’m a hugger, but not everyone welcomes being hugged, or having their hand held etc. If in doubt don’t, and if it’s not wanted, don’t take that as a personal sleight.
- It’s not about you! If your friend or colleague cancels on you at short notice, or wants to sit quietly in circumstances where you’d expect them to be chatty, that’s fine. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you any more, or are cross with you. They’re just coping the best they can. They know you’re there for them, and if you’ve done your job as a friend well, they’ll reach out to you when they’re ready.
- Don’t panic! My final piece of advice – given to me by a friend – is not to panic that because they are going through a difficult episode, they’re at risk of harming themselves or someone else. Remember that the person who knows most about someone’s mental health is the person themselves. They will have their own strategies for coping and will know when things are serious enough that they need a professional intervention.
World Mental Health Day is a good opportunity to reflect on how we can help those around us who need our care and support. Understanding that that can sometimes involve doing nothing more than giving them space can be difficult but may be the most important thing that they need just at that moment. I’d love to get your feedback on anything in this blog, whether it’s to agree, disagree or add something I’ve missed out.
Thank you for taking the time to read it.
Some of the other Open Shutters portraits:
In the space of one week recently we were contacted by two families who, quite separately, have been let down by a photographer at virtually no notice. They had both booked cake-smash photoshoots for their one year olds, and were both understandably very disappointed. They were given no reason.
We don’t normally do cake smash, but of course we offered to help them out in their hour of need – one booked us on the spot, the other, we assume, chose to go elsewhere, which is fine.
The family that booked us had organised their original shoot through a Groupon deal – at the ‘amazing’ price of £12. That’s not a price we would even attempt to match, but we could give an assurance that we certainly wouldn’t cancel at the last minute, neither would we subject them to a high-pressure sales session afterwards. The price they’re paying includes a load of web-sized images, and if they want to buy prints or other products that would be lovely, but it’s entirely up to them.
When you’re thinking about booking a photographer – whether it’s for a special birthday, a party, a wedding or anything else – of course price is an important consideration. But never forget – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
If you'd like to talk to us about capturing your precious moments, give us a call on 0161 300 6224, or fill in our contact form. We welcome anyone to come in and see us for a brew and a chat before you book.
In a week of such tragedy and grief, it’s hard to know what to write about. So much of what we do is about joy, fun and frivolity – parties, fairies, photobooths with silly hats, the excitement surrounding a new-born baby, the anticipation of a baby on the way. Somehow that doesn’t chime with the prevailing and perfectly understandable mood of anger, outrage, anxiety and sadness. At first sight, photography suddenly feels a bit of a luxury, a bit self-indulgent.
But that’s not the whole story. Not at all. As people photographers we are invited to capture key moments in people’s lives, from birth (and before) through childhood, school, university, graduation, marriage and parenthood. We see families grow, go their separate ways and occasionally reunite for a precious group portrait. Sometimes we even get asked to photograph people who are seriously ill, perhaps nearer the end of their life. Some photographers generously volunteer to take pictures of babies who have died before, during or shortly after birth.
At bad times, as well as good, people reach for photographs: photographs that stir memories, that show the beauty and personality of their loved ones. Who could remain unmoved by the images on social media pages this week as families desperately hoped for news and information. And at times of great sadness, photographs of happier times may bring some comfort to families in their grief.
Photographs also form part of social history, a permanent record to show generations to come their family origins, their daily lives, their jobs.
As photographers, we see people at moments of much happiness and deep sadness, on days filled with excitement, reminiscence, regret and absence. It is an immense privilege, and we never take it for granted.
Wondering what to do with the children this half term? Or perhaps thinking about a full pamper party but not sure whether it’s what your child would want?
This is a perfect opportunity to give it a try and do something really different during the school break.
If you book our Taster Photoshoot Party for just £99, your child plus three friends can enjoy:
- A fun party lasting one hour
- A light, age-appropriate make-over
- Individual and group photoshoot
- Soft drink and a cup-cake or snack
- Downloadable photographs suitable for sharing on social media
- Opportunity to buy prints at very affordable prices
- £20 voucher to be used for a full Pamper and Pose party
Sound like fun? To book, or if you have any questions, look at our website www.studiog-oldham.co.uk or ring Lisa on 0161 300 6224
Well. What a week! Lisa and I meet every Monday morning to discuss the week ahead. Our meeting usually takes place at Costa (other coffee shops are available – apparently) and we have a roughly organised agenda so we know what we’re doing (again, roughly).
So last Monday, we met as usual, but the meeting did not go as planned. Lisa rather dramatically said “Well enough of that, let’s talk about something important. I’m going to launch Open Shutters today!” Now, dear reader, and I am never less than honest with you, I had heard this before. A few times, in truth, in the time we’ve been in business together. But this time, she really meant it. We didn’t even have a second coffee. We headed back to the studio and started setting up Lisa’s self-portrait which was to launch the project, we recorded the video that told her story – and if you haven’t seen it you really should – they were posted on line, and we were officially launched. As we talked we developed a vision for an ongoing project leading to an exhibition, and perhaps even a book
We were overwhelmed by the response, and decided we needed to post a portrait and story every working day last week, which was of course Mental Health Awareness Week and, with our enormous gratitude to Ella, Scottie, Laura and Chris we achieved that. We’ve had a number of approaches from people wanting to tell their story, and we had some great coverage in the Oldham Evening Chronicle, who were proud of the fact that Lisa used to be one of their journalists. In the event, Lisa was right to abandon our planning meeting, because the project took up the whole week for both of us.
So why are we doing this? Mental Health is getting a lot of publicity at the moment, which can only be a good thing, but the coverage tends to focus on eliminating the stigma often attached to mental illness. No-one seems to be talking about the fact that many people who have mental illness, whether an isolated episode or an ongoing condition, find that it brings beneficial changes to their lives. The people we’ve had the privilege of photographing and talking to this week wouldn’t be the people they are had it not been for their experience of mental ill health. That’s the story we want to tell with the Open Shutters Project.
The project was initially conceived as a personal photographic project for Lisa, but as we’ve got to know each other better, and as I’ve learned about the mental health journey that she and other good friends have taken, I couldn’t possibly let her do it alone. What we’re doing is, I believe, important. It has the capacity to help people, and perhaps change attitudes. I am very proud of Lisa for having the Open Shutters concept, and for finally taking the plunge and launching it, and I’m also very proud and excited to be part of it.
To find out more, check out our Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/theopenshuttersproject/?fref=ts or our website www.openshutters.org.uk