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.