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Putting ecotherapy into the picture

Thursday, 31 October 2013 Michael

Physical health problems can cause mental health problems, as Michael found out. He tells us how he came to terms with his health problems and restarted his photography career after joining Growing Well, one of our Ecominds-supported projects in Cumbria.

Michael Lishman is a professional photographer. He recently photographed a number of ecotherapy projects for Mind.

Thirteen years ago almost to the day I suffered a catastrophic brain haemorrhage. After cutting- edge brain surgery I was discharged from Newcastle General Hospital with the few possessions I had collected over the past month in a black bin bag.

It was then, with the benefit of hindsight, when my problems really started.

Although I was cured physically I really didn't understand or comprehend what had just happened to me. Over the coming years it became increasingly difficult for me to cope. I was looking after our two pre-school children, whilst my wife went out to work, often staying away from home.

I suffered bouts of very severe depression, found it difficult to concentrate and had very bad panic attacks. I tried medication but that didn't prove to be effective and also had some counselling, but I couldn't engage with the process.

To sum up, it was the most terrifying and bewildering period of my life. I wouldn’t have got through it without the support of my wife, children and family.

My health started to improve when my wife suggested that I should go to an organisation called Growing Well - an organic farm near Kendal that supports people recovering from periods of mental ill health. The farm provided me with a safe supportive environment that enabled me to regain my sense of worth and self-confidence; this was through a combination of the supervision provided by staff and working as part of a team with other people in similar situations. Volunteers at Growing Well are encouraged to gradually take on more responsibility. 

As my health improved I started to re-engage with the idea of resuming my career as a professional photographer. Almost from the first day at Growing Well I was struck by the fact that it was impossible to tell who was who at Growing Well. There was no way of knowing from outward appearance the state of people’s mental health. With the support and encouragement of Beren Aldridge at Growing Well I undertook a project to photograph a large group of people who had some connection with the organisation – but just from their physical representation it was impossible to tell who was who. If one in four people suffer from a mental health problem everybody will know somebody who is suffering without perhaps realising.

With the help of Growing Well I was able to engage with my therapist fully for the first time and this really helped me to come to terms with what happened to me.

I am now back working as a professional photographer again. I’m keen to support the work of Mind, other charities and NGOs as means of giving something back for all of the fantastic support I have received over the past 13 years.

Over the last year the Ecominds team at Mind have commissioned me to photograph a number of ecotherapy projects – my time at Growing Well really helped me to identify and connect with the people at these projects, which helped me to produce some fantastic photography.

I’ve started to make films about people’s experiences of their mental health problems and their recovery – Andy's experience of recovery at Growing Well is one recent example. I’m also now pleased to be board member at Growing Well and hopefully I can use my experiences to promote its work and contribute something back.

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