Identity and mental health explored in new photography exhibition

A new photography project has helped patients at the Hellingly Centre in East Sussex explore the link between identity and mental health as part of their recovery. 

‘Items of Hellingly’ is a collection of photos created by patients receiving care and support at the Hellingly Centre, our medium secure unit for adults with mental health problems who have become involved with the criminal justice system.

Each person chose a possession that they felt represented and told a story about them. The items were photographed and brought together in a special exhibition lining the main walkway through the centre, which was officially unveiled earlier this month (August).

The project was organised by Support Worker Laury Jeanneret, who explains: “On a recent holiday I visited an art exhibition that got me thinking about personal possessions and the stories they tell about us as individuals. We’re always looking for new and different ways to involve patients in therapeutic activities and it felt like something that patients could easily get involved in.

“I took the idea to the patients on Ash Ward and they were really enthusiastic about taking part, even those who sometimes struggle to engage with activities.

“It’s a very simple idea - we all have personal possessions that hold special significance and say something about us, but for people staying on mental health wards these items can hold added meaning. They are anchors to the outside world, to memories of happier times and links to friends and family. 

“An MP3 player can become a therapeutic tool to help someone who hears voices; a book can be the thing that changed a person’s life; a pair of flip flops can reinvigorate the memory of a childhood spent in faraway places. Each photo is extremely personal and tells the story of the item’s owner and their life. When they are all brought together they take you on a powerful journey through their experience as an inpatient and the journey they are taking towards recovery.”