How Finding a Passion Like Photography Can Help Your Mental Health
Mental health is an issue that is thankfully now firmly on the public radar, and recently I've come across a few fantastic initiatives that aim to promote mental health awareness through photography. Drawing from personal experience, I think this is a great idea and I am more than happy to throw my name in the ring to be involved. It's also inspired me to write this, in the hope that somebody can take something from it - even if that something is not necessarily photography related.
A little bit of background information. I've always had an appreciation of landscapes and nature, and have always been interested in the creative side of things, but photography only came to me within the last 2 years (and only semi-seriously in the last 12 months or so). When I decided to go and get myself a decent camera and give photography a proper crack as something more than just a passing interest, my life was not in a good place. I had dealt with some pretty nasty stuff, and I'll happily admit that my head was in a far worse place than my life actually was.
I was lucky enough to have a very supportive family and a great group of friends by my side, and I acknowledge that not everybody has that luxury in times of need. But when you are stuck in that hole and your life has fallen to pieces, you need something more than that to break the cycle - and that DIY element to overcoming mental health issues is without question the hardest part.
Enter photography. So, why has photography had such a profound effect on my mental health, and why do I think it could also be something that might help others?
1. It's an extension of something that already makes me happy. It's getting out of the house, and spending time outdoors. When you are stuck in a rut, something as simple as just getting outside and appreciating what's out there has a huge effect in breaking a cycle.
2. It focuses me. This happens in 2 ways. The first is that I'm focused on what I'm doing - thinking about the shot that I want, and focusing on getting that shot. The second is that I'm focused on learning HOW to get that shot. The amount that I've learnt about how to take photos within a fairly short space of time is huge - I look at photos I took 18 months ago and cringe sometimes - but the point is that I was focused on teaching myself something new. When you're focused on something, your mind is not engulfed in whatever it is that is bringing you down.
3. It's a form of communication. A lot of people who are suffering from mental health issues are weighed down by the fact that it is hard for others to see things through their eyes. Your eyes are unique - how you see the world through your eyes is yours and yours alone. Art is a way to communicate how you see the world to others - and art can be anything (from photography, to acting, to creative writing, and more).
It doesn't matter what you are communicating - the art of communication is cathartic and by way of communication you are releasing things you have inside your head, even if you don't realise it at the time. For me, I look at a landscape differently to a lot of other people, and I try to communicate my vision of that landscape through photography.
4. It's a social activity. The social aspects of photography can be direct or indirect. I've rekindled old friendships, and met some wonderful people through photography, whether that was from taking photos with them (other photographers), bumping into them randomly and chatting whilst out taking photos, or linking with them afterwards on social media.
There are some great photography groups on Facebook where you will find like-minded people who you can learn tips/skills from, join in photography excursions/social events with, or even just share your work with. Of course you don't have to share your work - maybe your photography is personal to you, and that is fine.
If you are planning on sharing your work, just remember that it is YOUR work, and how many likes it gets on Facebook or Instagram is not reflective of what it means to you, or necessarily a reflection of how good it is! You will find that there are a lot of positive people out there that give you confidence to keep going, and help you to improve. And you don't HAVE to go and take photos with other people - a lot of the time I prefer to shoot on my own - but the option is there.
5. It's something I don't suck at. I've sucked at a lot of things. I'm 34 next week, and whilst I've realised I'm not going to be a guitar shredding rockstar gracing the stages in the next iteration of Metallica, photography is something that I think will stay with me until my eyes stop working. When you find something you're good at, it does wonders for your confidence and self esteem - plus it makes you want to do it more and more. And the more you do it, the more your mental health improves (see above).
Again, I will stress that "not sucking" or being "good" at something is not based on the opinions of others. If you enjoy it, and you are happy with the results that you're getting, then you're not sucking at it! It's about what you want out of it. Plus, the more you focus on it, the more you will learn, and the better you will get.
IMPORTANT - note that the above is written based on my personal experience through photography. If you remove the word "photography" and replace it with another pursuit - say drawing, painting or writing, or even fitness - it still makes perfect sense, and can still have enormous benefits for your mental health. It's about finding a passion that makes you happy.
Thanks for reading - please feel free to leave me a comment, and please share this with anybody who you think it might help. If you think photography might be something you would enjoy, by all means contact me and I am happy to give you advice or point you in the right direction, or possibly even catch up for a shoot at some point!
General Mental Health Links:
Beyond Blue: www.beyondblue.org.au and www.youthbeyondblue.com
Photography & Mental Health Initiatives:
Hello Bluey: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (thanks to Lauren at LM Fowler Photography for getting me involved)
Riding the Blue Wave: Facebook Group (thanks to Celie and Dale at Photo Rangers)