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'Mental Health'

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'The Photographer`s Story'

Mark Power photographed in Birmingham at Highcroft Hospital, All Saints Hospital and Small Heath Clinic, and in London with the Pathfinder Trust outreach project based at Springfield Hospital, Tooting.

"Photography has often exploited the mentally ill. Vulnerable people have been photographed and categorised. In the past they have been used for education or entertainment, under the guise of science.

"Yet it struck me that we are all close to mental illness - we might lose our temper or get depressed; it's just that we cope a little better. I wanted to base my work on the illness rather than the individuals, who might have only served to distance us further still.

"Working with a cumbersome large format camera made me a focal point on wards. I could not hide and the camera would sometimes make a patient paranoid and I would have to leave.

"My pictures are bleak and intense, yet they reflect my experience. A secure ward felt like an alien environment, especially when I was given a warning device or accompanied by a staff member concerned for me and my camera's safety.

"Long-stay hospitals have performed a function, but I don't think anybody who works in them would claim they are the best way to care for all the patients who live there. Staff are overworked, and the unpredictability of the job makes it very stressful."

Mental Health problems are a major cause of ill health; one survey showed that 20 per cent of women and 14 per cent of men may have had a mental illness. An estimated 80 million working days are lost each year due to mental illness, at a cost to industry of 3.7 billion - more than is lost through common physical ailments like asthma and arthritis.

Mentally ill people have complex needs. Whilst some people need long term care in a secure environment, others are supported in their communities by a range of other services - for example hostels, drop-in centres and home care.

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