News Details | 03-Jul-2009

NTU students raise awareness of mental illness through photo documentary

Mad, violent and dangerous.

These are some of the stereotypes of the mentally ill which two Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students hope to nullify through their photo exhibition titled “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”. Held at the Central Lending Library from 4 to 16 July 2009, the exhibition aims to create a better understanding of mental illness and reduce the stigma attached to it.

Over a period of five months, graduating students from NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (黄金辉传媒与信息学院) Ms Adeline Ong (王一鳳), 23, and Mr Kevin Lim (林晉平), 26, documented the stories of patients at two rehabilitation centres, Sunlove Home and Surya Home, using the medium of photography. During this period, they crossed paths with more than 400 patients at both centres.

Ms Ong elaborated on why the duo decided to explore the topic as their Final-Year Project: “As media students, we were particularly aware of the stereotypes of people with mental illness created by dramas and movies. As photojournalists, we wanted to dissect these stereotypes to find out the real story behind mental illness, and this prompted us to embark on the project. In Singapore, mental illness is a deeply rooted social issue that has never been adequately addressed because of the stigma associated with it. We hope to put a face to mental illness through our photo documentary.”

Without any prior experience of interacting with the mentally ill, both Ms Ong and Mr Lim initially did not know what to expect.

“But as we grew to know the patients individually by their names and learnt more about their illnesses, we realised that any fears we had were really uncalled for. Beyond the illness, they were just as human as we were,” said Mr Lim.

Initially, they faced the daunting challenge of getting patients’ family members to open up and share their stories, so that they could portray a more holistic view of mental illness. The duo soon found that perseverance and being sincere were key to breaking down any barriers the families had towards them.

Going beyond the exhibition, the duo have set up a website with multimedia content, and have produced limited copies of books on the photo documentary for sale. Proceeds of the books will go to funding future projects related to the field of mental illness.

Ms Ong said: “On the most basic level, we hope to raise awareness about the issue. In the long run, we want to continue to push the boundaries and reduce the stigma of mental illness.”

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