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St. Joseph's Health Centre Toronto

Life through a different lens: Photography group helping manage mental health

Photo Club

Occupational therapist Sara Salahub (middle) discusses an assignment with the photography group

Art and therapy are being combined to help people manage their mental health in an innovative new program at St. Joseph’s Health Centre.

For six weeks, clients in the outpatient mental health clinic can join a photography group that gives members assignments to work on together creating unique images and art all while in a safe and supportive environment.

“The only requirements were that they feel comfortable enough to talk about their work and to go out and take pictures,” said Sara Salahub, occupational therapist in the mental health program and one of the club’s creators. “If they want to share how their mental illness affects them, they are welcome to, but never are they asked to disclose – and that is okay, because this is about how photography and art is beneficial to them.”

Gero and Alvin are part of the photography group’s first members, and while their skill levels develop, the team environment is creating a wellness environment by helping to reduce feelings of isolation as they build friendships with others who have a common interest and a shared understanding of the issues they face.

“Photography has been a part of my life for a long time, but this is more than just about photos. Now I’m able to ask what emotion does that evoke, and answer what does something mean to me? It gets me in touch with myself and it’s helping my mental health and wellness,” said Gero.

The focus of the assignments has ranged from subjects on street photography to urban landscape and perspectives. “It takes me a while to get the perfect shot, but that’s what I like about it,” said Alvin. “Instead of worrying about the things I can’t control, it lets me focus on the moment. It makes me super happy.”

What began as a pilot project has rolled into its twelfth week welcoming new members to the group – all made possible by funding from ImagineIF, the hospital’s Innovation Fund that is supported by a generous donation. A gallery unveiling is being held this month to show off the members’ photography centred on the theme “What is Wellness to you.”

“I hope they keep taking pictures. I hope that they see something in themselves that is meaningful to them that can take them away from their stresses. I hope they find that same joy and confidence, and use it in other parts of their life whether or not they continue with photography,” said Salahub.

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