Photojournalists on Mental Health

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that worldwide, one in four people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. While countries such as Australia have a comprehensive health care system encompassing mental health issues, vulnerable groups such as those with substance abuse problems, youth, and those living in isolated or rural areas, risk falling through the cracks. The story of Nick Meinhold and his family, struggling to cope with Nick's psychosis episodes while living in rural Victoria, is one such example.

But many developing countries often suffer a double burden. A legacy of infectious disease, natural disasters and conflict, paired with a healthcare system ill- equipped to cope with mental disorders means eight in every 10 people living with a mental disorder in a developing country will receive no treatment at all (WHO). 

"A greater attention from the development community is needed to reverse this situation", says Dr Ala Alwan, Assistant Director-General for Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health at WHO in a press release. "The lack of visibility, voice and power of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities means that an extra effort needs to be made to reach out to and involve them more directly in development programmes."

Those living with mental disorders are one of society's most marginalised groups. Often borne from a lack of understanding and awareness, shame and stigma are attached to those living with mental illness and can often lead to a violation of their human rights.

According to the World Health Organization, some communities banish those with mental disorders, leaving them on the edge of town in rags, tied up, beaten and left to go hungry. At other times and out of shame, they are simply locked in a room. However, this is not an occurrence limited to developing countries. Those in psychiatric hospitals fair little better. Metal shackles and chains are used to confine patients to caged beds or rooms. Due to a range of reasons including a lack of funding and awareness, many facilities are unable to provide clothing, decent bedding or clean water. (As a note, poor treatment of those with mental illness is not isolated to developing countries. Even in the most affluent places, the poor and homeless are generally those simultaneously affected by mental illnesses and it is often these people who receive the least help or treatment.)

Over the past few weeks, I have come across a range of photojournalism projects covering mental illness in the developing world. From Mogadishu to Kentucky, these projects vary in geography and share not only a common theme but also a sense of humanity and respect when portraying a highly vulnerable group of individuals. Click on the images below to view the full projects at their original source.

In any country, culture or language, mental disorders can be a difficult topic to address. And it is for this reason that on World Mental Health day, a discussion needs to begin so that we can foster a greater understanding, awareness and above all, respect, for those living with a mental disorder.  

Nightmare in Mogadishu, Nicole Sobecki


Disorder: Indonesia's Mental Health Facilities, TIME, Andrea Star Reese.


Frustration and Suffering in Haiti’s Mental Facilities, TIME, Fabio Bucciarelli.


Condemned: Mental Health in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Robin Hammond.


Contained in a Cage, GMB Akash.


One Photographer's Experience Documenting Mentally Ill Inmates, PBS,  Jenn Ackerman.


Suffering in Silence, Akhtar Soomro, Reuters  blog.


2013 International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples

“All these peoples’ cultures teach us of other ways of being, other ways of thinking, other ways of orienting yourself in the earth" - said National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis. Yet while indigenous peoples make up around 5 percent of the world's population, they account for 15 percent of those living in extreme poverty.

August 9th marked the 2013 International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples- celebrating the 370 million indigenous men, women and children living around the world. From the unique marriage traditions of the Surma people in South Sudan and southwestern Ethiopia to the 841 languages spoken across Papua New Guinea there is much to be celebrated about the diversity of culture, language, life and thought that indigenous peoples bring to the world. But at the same time, many groups live in poverty, face discrimination, are constantly at threat of losing their land to extraction projects or logging, face significant cultural and language loss and struggle to make their voices heard in decision- making on a local, national and international level.

About 200 indigenous people affected by the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers began an occupation of the largest construction site of the Belo Monte Dam on Thursday, May 2, 2013. They are demanding the withdrawal of troops from their land and the suspension of dam construction until there are regulated free, prior and informed consultations with indigenous peoples. Photo- Ruy Sposati /Agência Raízes

Although a few weeks late, I wanted to share some of my favourite photographers and writers focused on indigenous peoples and issues. This list is by no means comprehensive so please leave any suggestions in the comments!

The Vanishing Cultures Project

Amy Stretten,

Phil Borges- Enduring Spirit

Wade Davis- anthropologist (and photographer)

Jimmy Nelson- Before They

Nett- My New Guinea

Round Up: Guild Freelancers Spring Training Day

Last Saturday I attended the Guild Freelancer's 2013 Spring Training for Journalists at San Francisco State University (SFSU). This is my first US based journalism event and considering the low cost, I was very impressed. It featured speakers such as Carrie Ching, Kim Komenich and Seth Rosenfeld and included workshops on everything from advanced FOIA to iphone photography.

The downside of the day (for me at least) was that several of the workshops I wanted to attend ran during the same time slot meaning I had to pick one or the other. But this is the nature of larger events and understandably clashes are to be expected. I was also disappointed with the internship seminar as most of the participants were SFSU students and it felt very geared towards that audience. Similarly, it focused on how to find an internship rather than offering advice on how to make the most of internships and then translate that experience to help find an entry level job.

However, I still found the day interesting as much of it focused on multimedia and allowed me to better understand where US publications stand in terms of multimedia and online news development in comparison to Australian ones. Currently, I'm focusing on improving my multimedia skills so viewing something like Carrie Ching's production, In Jennifer's Room, opened my eyes to what I suppose is the direction journalism is headed. And personally, I am really excited.

Here are a few gems of advice that I took away from the day:

- Be technologically fearless. Don't let technology get in the way because you know more than you think you do.

Kim Komenich's lecture entitled 'Multimedia on the cheap' was exactly that: how to be a poorly paid journalist and still delve into the world of multimedia without fancy gear. Aside from this he encouraged the audience to use the journalistic skills they already possess and pursue multimedia stories no matter how basic they are.

- Seek intimacy in interviews. Have people introduce themselves three times: beginning, middle, end. 

Mike Kepka is a photographer and multimedia producer for the San Francisco Chronicle. His series 'the City Exposed' focuses on interesting characters in San Francisco and it is essentially these characters that makes SF so unique. Kepka deconstructed one of his multimedia pieces, The Trumpet Kid, and discussed everything from interviewing techniques to those all important shots that will save your butt while filming and editing. Aside  from the tips above, he also mentioned that what you think is the best quote, often has to be cut out first. For someone who finds it difficult to aggressively self edit, this is a piece of advice that should be taken and applied to every feature article/multimedia piece/news story/radio segment.

- Bad audio sucks. 

Every multimedia presentation reiterated this point: even in multimedia pieces audio drives the piece. Without quality audio, you have nothing. I always thought good video drove a piece but as I learnt, especially in Carrie Ching's talk, that if you have great audio, you can work with the rest. Some key tips were: always check your levels, if worst comes to worst do the interview in a car and never let the interviewee hold the microphone.

- Be adaptable. Be flexible. Be resilient. 

Carol Pogash was the keynote speaker and much of her talk centered on being flexible and adaptable - advice which is more important than ever. She has no background in journalism yet has worked as a TV anchor, news reporter, author, feature writer, editor and more. So while she is a jack of all trades, she is also a master of many and therein lies the difference. Pogash explained just how obsessed she is with her work and how this has meant she makes very few mistakes (only one in her career) and is now known for her quality reporting. While Pogash comes from an era when getting a journo job meant annoying an editor long enough to get an internship gig and eventually landing yourself a job borne from it, she is no stranger to the tough job market of today and therein lies the 'nut graph' of her advice: be adaptable.

- Passion is critical.

Just weeks ago the website, Career Cast deemed newspaper reporter the worst job in 2013. So if journalism is poorly paid, has little job stability, very few job openings and greater demands on journalists - why stick with it? I ask myself this question a lot and often the best answer I come up with is: because this is where my passion lies. This was also reiterated by journalists throughout the day and it was somewhat comforting to know that despite all the changes, cuts and instability - they are still passionate about what they do.

The Great Blue Herons of Stow Lake

Last week I was fortunate enough to spend some time with one of Golden Gate Park's  most interesting characters- Nancy DeStefanis. In a former life, Nancy worked with Cesar Chavez and campaigned for women's rights. Now she dedicates her time to the non- profit San Francisco Nature Education where she teaches not only the public, but disadvantaged communities, about nature in the big city. Nancy  DeStefanis counting the Blue Heron chicks at Stow Lake. Photo: Alessandra Bergamin.

I was there to write about the Great Blue Heron colony at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park of which Nancy was the first to discover some 20 years ago. She now runs Heron Watch- a program designed to educate visitors and school kids about the colony and more so, this majestic bird.

I am relatively new to the environmental journalism world and slowly, I am getting used to writing feature stories where the main character is a place, rather than a person. But this was an instance where the person was as much a character as the place and so I chose to interweave the life of the Blue Heron colony with that of Nancy DeStefanis. As now, when I think about it, it is hard to imagine one without the other.

You can read the story published on Bay Nature here.


In exciting news, I'm currently an intern at Bay Nature Magazine, a blog editor for Izilwane and have uprooted from my native Australia to spend some time over in the US I've also been feeling inspired and blogging quite a lot at The Backpacker Collective so check it out!

I'm planning on writing something more substantial about the life of an intern but I am quite excited and proud to announce that slowly my photography skills are getting better and a few photos have made it to Bay Nature online.

Check them out here.


I own a Nokia mobile phone.

The kind that has a shoddy 2 mega pixel camera, where the buttons make clicking noises and the only thing that happens when I touch the screen is that it looks slightly cleaner.

As you can imagine, this little Nokia not only receives much laughter and incredulity, but also transports people down memory lane to their first beloved Nokia or even, first phone.

As someone hoping to become a journalist this is, as you can imagine; problematic. I can't tweet, blog or facebook on the train, I don't have an ABC, BBC or NYT app to read on the tram and I can't entertain myself trawling through the internet and reading all sorts of useless things.

My laptop is not in any better shape. Back in 2009, it was one of the newly released ASUS net books but now, against smaller and sleeker versions, let alone tablets, it looks old and outdated. Not to mention, I am one of the only people who can press on the SD card reader at the right angle to make it work or maneuver the crazy mouse pad and buttons.

Amid this outdated technology, I have considered and researched my options. Should I; get a Mac laptop, get a smart phone, get a kindle, get an i- phone, get a tablet, get some other kind of e- reader or get an i-pad?

After much debate, I am still stuck in the early 2000's, not because of indecisiveness, but more so, environmental awareness.

According to 'The European Environment Agency' and 'UNEP,' 40-50 million tonnes of electrical equipment waste are produced each year globally. Most of this waste ends up in landfill, can can be shipped to places such as dump sites in Kenya and India. For people who depend upon scavenging in waste for resalable items, electronic waste is seemingly heaven sent as the list of elements and metals inside range from the toxic to the non- toxic and includes; arsenic,  mercury, copper and gold. To access these metals, however, the plastic coating on electronic goods needs to be removed, often through mass burning, and can lead to health issues including respiratory problems and increased cancer risk as well as ecological problems such as soil and water contamination.

While new technology is improving our lives and bringing the world 'closer' together, recycling, reusing or disposing of electronic waste, has not kept up with technological advances and we are seeing a rapid obsolescence of electrical goods worldwide. There are however, ways to minimise waste through organisations such as MobileMuster, who recycle mobile phones or through reselling goods on Ebay or Gumtree.

For now, I have decided to keep my archaic Nokia phone and decrepit laptop until they become unusable and perhaps play old school snake on my phone or better yet, just read book on the train.

Non- profit Journalism

Today, Fairfax announced nearly 2000 staff cuts to be made over the next three years. In light of my recent graduation and paired with the uncertainty of what I will be doing for the next few months/years, I should be enrolling in an accounting course right now.

But I've been reading quite a lot about non-profit journalism and the potential it has to 'fill the gap' left my mainstream media. While this is not a big trend in Australia when compared to the U.S., it is starting to gain leverage with universities at the forefront. While there are issues regarding the sustainability of such a model, given the problems facing mainstream media organisations this is perhaps a good, if not the best, viable option for the future.

Here's a selection of non- profit News Orgs-

ProPublica- Interesting and engaging investigative journalism.

The Common Language Project- One of my favourites; thoughtful and provoking global reporting  on issues, countries and people largely forgotten by the rest of the world.

ReMapping Debate- I only came across this recently, however it is some of the most interesting coverage of US domestic politics/policies that I've read.

New Matilda- An old favourite, while lacking the reporting standards of non- profits such as ProPublica, New Matilda is a great outlet for an alternative source of news and analysis.

The Global Mail- 'Our audience is our only agenda' says it all.

The Conversation- Although I read The Conversation regularly for in depth background on issues, it verges on the more academic than journalistic side. Nevertheless, its usually an incisive read.


Fairness, Accuracy and Impartiality

Last week, I interviewed Australian photojournalist, John Rodsted about the 'Legacy of War' and the use of landmines and cluster bombs in warfare. As someone who has worked in post- conflict countries such as Bosnia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Lebanon, John had an stories to share about the damage landmines and cluster bombs do to civilians, even after the fighting has stopped. John's photography led to his involvement in the 'International Campaign to Ban Landmines' which succeeded in creating a Treaty to ban the manufacture, trade, stock pile and use of landmines in conflict and eventually won John and the group a Nobel Peace Prize. John and the ICBL's work should be commended as landmines and cluster bombs are a horrific way of waging a war that only serves to cripple a country trying to recover from conflict. But another interesting debate has arisen from this. Is a journalist's job to report things as they are or, through their work, should they try and change things?

An article was recently featured on TIME's Lightbox blog about the photojournalism non-for-profit, the NURU Project and this issue in particular. The article raised questions about the role of a photojournalist or journalist, for that matter and whether getting involved compromises journalistic values i.e. objectivity. While I don't really subscribe to the idea of objective reporting, I do believe in fairness, accuracy and impartiality and think these are imperative in an age of distrust in the media. While I don't think things are ever reported simply 'as they are' I understand the greater implications this question has for journalistic integrity in a professional and a personal sense.

Personally, I think wanting to be a journalist (in some instances at least) brings with it an inherent desire to not just say, 'the tree is red' but find out how and more importantly why or why not. And therein lies the power of journalism to change things. It may not be in a direct way, but I think there is the hope that if someone sees, reads or hears something that is interesting, confronting or challenging and they react in some way, then journalism has changed things, even on a small scale.

This is what I strive for, even now as a volunteer/student journalist and something I hope I  keep striving for because otherwise, I won't be questioning my role as a journalist, but my reasons for wanting to pursue it in the first place.

You can listen to the Panorama segment; 'After the war, the legacy of landmines,' here.