Fighting Mental Health Stigma in Chiapas

Photo project gives voice to patients living with depression and anxiety

Stigma prevents people who suffer from mental illnesses from looking for the support and care they urgently need. Due to the scarcity of mental health services, many people experience extremely disabling symptoms for years before getting adequate treatment.

In most of Chiapas, the state where Compañeros en Salud (CES) — as Partners In Health is known in Mexico — provides care, services for mental health are only available through specialists based in the capital city, located more than 6 hours away from some of our clinics. CES has been the only provider of mental health services at the primary care level in the state since 2014; nevertheless, many people still suffer from mental illnesses in isolation due to stigma in the area.

To tackle this issue, CES’s mental health team and researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine started a project called “Perspectives of the Sierra.” We recruited 21 people who suffer from anxiety or depression and provided them with cameras to take pictures of everyday scenes that have an underlying meaning for them. During guided workshops, participants shared their symptoms and the origins of their distress, but also their desire for recovery and their sources of support.

We are proud to have helped patients raise their voices and share their stories. We hope that more space is created for people to speak openly and safely about mental health issues. Most of all, we hope that shame, fear, and guilt about mental illness are never reasons why a person is deprived of the support and care that can save their lives.


With Pride

This project by Irma portrays the distress and love that her family bring her. Despite problems, she mainly feels proud of all that her family has accomplished, and grateful for the support and love they have given her.

Photo from Perspectives of the Sierra, 2017 — by Irma R., age 52.
“Here we see the coffee and the bananas that are the result of my son’s work. He planted them with love and pride.”
Photo from Perspectives of the Sierra, 2017 — by Irma R., age 52.
“This is why I get sick. I worry when my sons drink.”

Where There is Hope, There is Life

This project by Mayra powerfully describes her life with depression. She shares the difficult feelings that come with experiencing this illness, but she also shows her strength and persistence battling mental illness.

Photo from Perspectives of the Sierra, 2017 — by Mayra R., age 25.
“Depression is like the lock on a prison where you are the one who suffers the most.”
Photo from Perspectives of the Sierra, 2017 — by Mayra R., age 25.
“Keep on fighting no matter how much time passes.”

Between Spines and Walls I Have Found New Hope

In this project, Gleysi uses the nature that surrounds her to explain how it feels to have depression, and to hide this from people around her.

Photos from Perspectives of the Sierra, 2017 — by Gleysi M., age 18.
“Sometimes I feel like this mango. I look good on the outside but feel bad inside.”

My Illness; My Falls

Zendi started suffering from convulsions when she was 10 years old. A wrong diagnosis prevented her from getting adequate treatment until she reached adulthood. In “My Illness,” she portrays some of her most common symptoms: psychogenic non-epileptic seizures and anxiety. In her work “My Falls,” she captures different places around her house and community where she has fallen due to seizures.

Photo from Perspectives of the Sierra, 2017 — by Zendi V., age 20.
“My hands shake when I get nervous or frightened, just like the leaves of trees in the wind.”
Photo from Perspectives of the Sierra, 2017 — by Zendi V., age 20.
“The places where I fell when I had seizures.”

See more photography projects at www.miradasdelasierra.com.

“Perspectives of the Sierra” has been featured at events in Prague and London, and received third prize at the Photovoice exhibition at the Global Symposium of Health Services Research in Liverpool.