Photography might help cope with mental illness, according to experts

by Felix Esser

posted Monday, August 4, 2014 at 9:16 AM EDT


As teenagers fighting our way through puberty, many of us probably have experienced depressions of one kind or another. During the phase in which our bodies mature this is perfectly normal -- after all, our hormones go haywire during that time. Normally, the depression leaves together with the skin irritations and bad moods. But when you're having depressions as an adult, they can have a huge negative impact on your life and that of those around you.

While most people suffering from a mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome or similar will be treated with psychotropic drugs at some point, there may be other, less intrusive treatments. (Which is not to say that psychotropic drugs are a bad thing -- for many they are the only means of living a somewhat normal life.) According to several experts, photography can have a positive effect on brains suffering from mental disorders.

For example, Ellen J. Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, claims that years of research support the positive effects of photography on people suffering from depression. "When people are depressed, they tend to retreat from the world. Noticing things in the camera puts you in the present moment, makes you sensitive to context and perspective, and that’s the essence of engagement," she tells the New York Times.

Kelly Lambert, a behavioral neuroscientist at Randolph-Macon College, ascribes the positive effects of photography to the brain's reward system. Seeing the results of the efforts put into the creation of a photograph triggers a response comparable to that of rats trained to 'work' for their food instead of simply being fed. They key is "learned persistence as opposed to learned helplessness," Lambert is being quoted by the New York Times.

Danielle Hark, founder of the Broken Light Collective -- a group of photographers suffering from mental illnesses -- may not be a neuroscientist or psychology professor, but her personal experience is proof of the positive effects that photography has on the human psyche. Suffering from both depression and bipolar disorder, she discovered the therapeutic value of photography two years ago, and now tries to help others with the same or similar diagnoses.

While photography is probably not a cure for a mental illness -- which can have various causes both physical and psychological -- it may provide comfort and ease due to its positive effects on the brain's chemistry and wiring. So there you have it. Photography is good for your mental health -- we somehow knew it all along. So let's get outside and take pictures -- our brains will thank us for it.

(via Digital Trends; Image credit: Felix Esser)