Mental health was the main theme of the Wellcome Photography Prize 2020. We invited photographers to capture visual stories which go beyond stigma and stereotypes; stories that show experiences of living with and recovering from mental health challenges.
Arseniy Neskhodimov did just that, with honesty and humour, winning the overall prize and the mental health series category with his 'Prozac' series. "My self-portraits are a kind of therapy that help me fight off the attacks of despair and loss of meaning, especially in this difficult pandemic time," he said.
We asked colleagues at Wellcome what their favourite shortlisted images were and why. Here’s what they said.
Cat Sebastian, Evidence Lead, Mental Health: "The juxtaposition of humour and despair drew me to this series, the sense that even at his lowest point the photographer is wryly observing and commenting on his reactions.
The holiday theme resonates with a key aspect of depression, of not being able to find pleasure in enjoyable and previously enjoyed activities. In this series, the photographer is in turns too sad, too anxious, too late, too encumbered by self-reflection to live in the moment and enjoy: wherever he is, he’s still there. But I sense some hope in these images too, of striving to find his own path to recovery."
Cristina Doherty, Graduate Trainee: "This picture really encapsulates the way in which people living with anxiety and depression find ways to manage their experiences. I can feel the icy coldness of the water while looking at it, which feels calming and energising at the same time for me.
Nina appears utterly present in the moment, although the distorted reflection highlights disjuncture between this moment and beneath the surface."
Ed Whiting, Director of Strategy: "I found this picture by Nyancho NwaNri particularly powerful in illustrating the huge impact that extreme weather can have on our physical and mental health.
We are thinking a lot at Wellcome about how we can help to tackle big health challenges. One thing that we’ve been acutely aware of, particularly in this Covid-19 world, is the way that these challenges – for example infectious diseases, mental health and climate change – so often intersect.
I thought the photo captured that reality beautifully, and with it, the wider point that our own mental health appears to be so intimately affected and determined by our environment, and it isn’t just about the biological processes of our brain."
Grace Gatera, Lived Experience Expert Advisor: "This image is very relatable for someone who struggles regularly with depression and has had suicidal thoughts. We all need tethers, and just like Benji in the photograph, mine are my family.
I like that this picture depicts rawness, but also raw tenderness. I like that this is not a typical ‘head clutcher’ shot, as it humanizes both subjects in raw and honest ways. This shows to me that young people are the key, which is something Wellcome’s mental health work echoes in its programmes, and that they hold an infinite amount of power, even though they may not know that they do."
Miranda Wolpert, Director of Mental Health: "These images [from Sebastian Mar's 'Mental Health Kit' series] really resonated with me because they speak to the specificity of individual responses, and the creativity and strength of individuals in the face of mental health problems.
When I worked as a clinical psychologist, the thing that struck me the most was how people coped with really challenging issues and circumstances. These kits speak to the powerful mix of vulnerability and strength that most of us have. The images are relatable to everyone, everywhere. Perhaps we should all map out our own mental health first aid kit (albeit not with such creative skill)."
Special thanks to Charlotte Payne for collating these quotes.