Photovoice as a Tool to Understand the Experience of Stigma Among Individuals With Serious Mental Illnesses

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to explore the use of photovoice methodology in representing and understanding the subjective experience of stigma associated with mental illness by persons living with mental health challenges. Photovoice is an innovative participatory action research method that allows individuals and communities to utilize photography and writing to address various social and health issues and communicate their views to a wider audience. This study included the qualitative analysis of 60 photovoice pieces created by 43 individuals with serious mental illnesses who participated in a larger antistigma psychoeducational intervention that incorporates photovoice as 1 of its active components. Photovoice works were analyzed using analytic methods established in visual anthropology and adapted in previous photovoice studies. The iconographic and thematic analysis revealed the following major themes: symbolic representations of stigma of mental illness, negative impact of stigma on the person living with mental illness, strategies to cope with and address stigma, personal transformation as a result of combating stigma, and personal lessons and messages to educate others about stigma. Numerous categories were identified within each of these themes with unique and novel findings about diverse symbolic representations of participants’ perspectives and strategies to deal with public and internalized stigma. This study provides evidence that photovoice is a promising methodology in understanding the subjective experience of mental illness stigma as well as a tool for personal empowerment and transformation.

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