Celebrating the mental health survivors

The purpose of the project is to encourage and support people who have mental health issues in being confident enough to talk about them, and to see that those issues can bring benefits, and lead to good outcomes, as well as the difficulties and negativity commonly associated with them. We’re doing that by producing a collection of portraits with supporting information in the form of a short video clip a short written statement. We’re being supported in the project by the local branch of MIND


Welcome to the Open Shutters Project.

My name is Lisa Marie Gee and I am the one in four.

I am one of the 25% of people who suffer from mental health issues. I have shared my life with my friends Depression and Anxiety for 27 years now. Don’t get me wrong, they can be hell on earth to live with and I would never want to make light of that, but there is a flip side, and it is one that rarely gets talked about, especially in the media.

Some of the strongest, kindest, most caring and most creative people I know have mental health conditions. Why should there be a stigma to it? I firmly believe that overcoming, or at least learning to live with depression and anxiety makes you a better person. It certainly has in my case.

In my darker days I curse the affliction I will probably live with for the rest of my life. But in my stronger times I try to wear it as a badge of honour. I honestly believe that if a breakdown hadn’t brought me to a halt 14 years ago I would still be career-driven and working 60 hour weeks in the pursuance of somebody else’s dreams.

Instead, I am a wife and the mother of two children I adore. I didn’t even realise I wanted a family until my life ground to a halt. Life hasn’t been perfect since becoming a mother, far from it. I suffered from postnatal depression after my son was born. But in the depths of that I reignited a long-forgotten interest in photography. Encouraged by my family, I bought my first very old DSLR for £30 from a charity shop and I have never looked back. I now co-run my own photography studio, Studio G Photography, in Oldham, with my friend and business partner, Robert.

I know that suffering from depression has helped the creative process, to the point that for several years I fought against going back on medication, choosing instead to try diet and exercise. But recently I decided, in agreement with my husband, that I needed to go back onto medication, knowing that I will be taking it long term. Antidepressants take all the edges off, good ones and bad ones, and I was worried initially that it would damage my creativity. But as a mother I have to do what is best for my children, and I am surrounded by so many supportive and creative people that I know I will be just fine.

For a long time I have had it in my head that I wanted to do a photographic project to illustrate that there is life after (and with) depression. I was finally persuaded recently that the time is right to give it a go. My plan is to photograph people I admire, the strong and powerful survivors. The people who, like me, have something positive to say about living with a mental health diagnosis. I’m tired of only reading the negative stuff. I want to show new sufferers that they can get better and they will be stronger people for it.

I chose the title, the Open Shutters Project, not only because of the photographic reference, but because I think it is time the shutters were opened on the dark and secretive world of mental illness.

Obviously I had to be the first person to stand up and be counted. The self portrait I chose is an image of me holding my camera, in front of my favourite photograph of my children, who, after all, are the reason I got into photography. What I need now, and I am hoping against hope for, is that my message of positivity will strike a chord out there and other people will come forward to be photographed and to tell their own stories and show that lives can eventually be improved, not blighted, by a diagnosis of mental illness.

As Dolly Parton once said: “If you want the rainbow you have to put up with the rain.”


Find the project on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/theopenshuttersproject 

An introduction...

Watch the video to find out what the Open Shutters Project is all about.

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