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Sharing Mental Health and Addiction Experiences Through the Lens of a Camera

Bowen Center officials are joined by staff, members of the Photovoice Research Team, Photovoice Participants and Officials from Adelphi University's School of Social Work

Harlem's Bowen Center Unveils Photovoice Exhibition to Kick-Off Mental Health Awareness Month

Appreciation and gratitude are a big part of my recovery. You have to appreciate those things that describe your pain.”
— Photovoice Participant
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, USA, May 2, 2022 / -- The Emma L. Bowen Community Service Center, one of Harlem’s largest community-based organizations that provides quality, accessible mental health, and addiction treatment services, collaborated with Adelphi University’s School of Social Work and Photovoice Worldwide in a Participatory Action Research Study, that allowed clients to reflect and share their experience with mental health issues and addiction treatment through discussion and photographs.

The result is Café Photo Voice— a beautiful exhibition of matted and framed digital images that capture aspects of the Photovoice participants' lived experiences, recently unveiled to coincide with the start of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Photovoice put cameras in the hands of Bowen Center participants as a meaningful way to activate change while gaining knowledge through discussion, storytelling, and creativity. Each participant speaks through their images and shares stories about their access to mental health and addiction treatment services as they move through moments that make up their daily lives. The environmental nature of each photograph locates the viewer inside real-life participant interactions with family, work, nature, and community. Storytelling and poetry facilitate an open dialogue where participants express their insights; thereby physical and mental health providers, policymakers, and stakeholders can better learn what psychological and physical health care means to members of the community and their families to improve care access and the experiences of programs and services.

“Appreciation and gratitude are a big part of my recovery,” says a Photovoice participant. “You have to appreciate those things that describe your pain. You're good and bad. Your joy and pain. It’s like that record sunshine and rain. You got your pictures of the rain with the feathers and the wings. Then you got the sunny skies with the trees. Those are all the emotions that go through me, through anybody."

Seven Bowen Center clients participated in the study. Data from the study is currently being analyzed, and once completed, Bowen intends to use the results as a guide to implement the intervention to a wider range of clients. The research team will also write a paper that will be submitted to academic journals so others can learn about Photovoice and hopefully adapt the intervention to different settings.

The permanent exhibition can be viewed by visiting the second floor of the Bowen Center, 1727 Amsterdam Avenue at 145th Street. Masks must be worn while viewing the exhibition.

Christopher Johnson
Geto & de Milly, Inc.
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