On the Road with the Photovoice Show: An Intern’s Reflections

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By Alice Chan, ICH Summer Intern
Tufts University Psychology Student Class of 2015

How do a crossword puzzle, a tennis racket, and food relate to mental health? According to eight Asian American teens, these items symbolize what they perceive to be the strongest influences on mental health and well-being: self care, the social environment, and family. For one teen, something seemingly as mundane as a tennis racket is significant for mental health: “tennis is a huge stress reliever for the workload I get from school.”

From January to April 2013, these eight teens developed their perspective, or “voice,” on mental health and wellness using Photovoice, a participatory visual method that utilizes photography to promote social change.  Developed by Caroline C. Wang and Mary Anne Burris in 1994, the Photovoice initiative helps youth explore and expand their understanding of a social issue through story-telling and photography (PhotoVoice, 2013). With support from Institute for Community Health’s (ICH’s) Dr. Shalini Tendulkar, the Chinese Culture Connection (CCC), and the Asian American Civic Association (AACA) – eight Malden teens used Photovoice to search within their communities and themselves to answer the following: “As an Asian American teenager, I think mental wellness is…”   

The results of their hard work—24 vibrant images and detailed reflections—were recognized state-wide. In April, The Families for Depression Awareness, a national non-profit organization, awarded the youth and the project partners the 2013 Distinguished Service in Mental Health Advocacy Award. Following this honor, the teens’ photos were presented in a series of public exhibitions, ranging from the 4th Annual Asian Pacific Islander Mental Health Forum to a special showcase at Malden City Hall. For the teens, most of whom are Malden residents, the opportunity to connect with their community through photography was ineffably meaningful:

“Photovoice made me think more about my own mental health, and the ways I could improve it. There are many factors that can badly influence our mental health, and with a different mindset we can change the way we live starting with our daily routines and experiencing new settings.”

All together, the photos held powerful messages reflecting what mental health and wellness mean to these teens as Asian Americans growing up in 2013.

As an undergraduate intern at ICH and an Asian American, I was amazed by the depth of the teens’ introspections on mental health in their diverse photos and original writings. At the end of this yearlong project, the teens invited the world to see mental health through their eyes, and academics, city officials, and community members alike were deeply touched by their stories.  It is clear that this traveling photo show made true lasting impressions on the community members of Malden and Boston, the project personnel, and me. I am so proud to have been involved with this project with Dr. Tendulkar, CCC, AACA, and, most importantly, our youth. What an incredible and unforgettable experience!

Learn about the ICH Internship Program  

PhotoVoice. “Background to the Field: PhotoVoice, Photovoice Methodology and Participatory Photography.” PhotoVoice, 2013. Web. 27 Aug. 2013. <http://www.photovoice.org/whatwedo/info/background-to-the-field>.

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