A Positive From A Negative: Coping With Mental Illness is a web-based documentary about individuals throughout Canada who cope with mental illness. Using photography and audio interviews, the project illustrates various mental health problems that exist in our society and illuminates how one learns to live with them in productive and positive ways. It showcases how mental illness has affected individuals, how they manage it and what they hope to do in the future, regardless of the challenges they face.
A Positive From A Negative contributes to an ongoing discussion about mental health and creates a virtual space for people to observe, listen and talk about their own personal experiences. It also aims to increase societal awareness of mental health and de-stigmatize mental illness, which, although prevalent, is often invisible and, thus, disregarded. Openly sharing our stories helps gives us a voice to create change and awareness. A Positive From A Negative is about connecting individuals to a larger community and building that community by mixing creative expression, knowledge and understanding.
Where It All Started
I have dealt with depression and anxiety since I was about 10 years old. I was lucky because my family was open to discussing it and other problems we were all going through over the years. I grew up thinking that sharing these feelings were normal, and it was something that I should talk about if I thought it was relevant. Though, when I began to discuss my mental health and other taboo topics with people outside of my immediate friends and family, I found that often people became hesitant on pursuing the discussion further. For me, that came off as either they did not know how to respond to my openness about something society deemed unacceptable, or they did not know how to incorporate their own experiences into the discussion. This became frustrating as I did not feel that I should be afraid to communicate how I was coping and dealing with my present day life. This became the main reason for creating A Positive From A Negative.
A Positive From A Negative began at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013 as an undergraduate thesis while completing my BFA in Photography Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. I have always been interested in exploring my questions/issues through my photography and have at the same time been interested in how people cope with difficult situations while dealing with mental illness. I decided to explore this potential of this project by using social media to branch outside of my immediate social circle. I wanted to have positive discussions with people I did not know, but who wanted to share their stories and circumstances. I used Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook to send out posts that I was looking for people willing to have a conversation with me about their situations. I indicated that I was hoping to use their stories and my photography to illustrate the journey that comes with mental illness and how one can live successfully while dealing with it.
When I began my MFA in Documentary Media at Ryerson I knew I wanted to expand this project and bring it back to the online community where it started. I also knew I wanted to make it a Canada wide project. So that is what I did. I went and met some of the individuals I had connected with who wanted to share their stories. In July and August 2014, my sister Roisin and I set out to drive through all ten provinces in Canada. My goal was to interview at least one person in every province, and I exceeded this goal by interviewing a total of 25 people in those two months.
Now it is time to share it with you, the online community that supports those coping with mental health issues. Those who send supportive messages and grow online friendships out of common struggles. Those who hope for a good day everyday. Those who push for a more accepting and understanding society. This is for you.