Photos help SAIT instructor focus on maintaining good mental health

In his photo series, Home of the Brave, SAIT instructor Danny Miller aims to remove stigma and encourage more conversation about mental health.

The collection, which features 15 black and white portraits, will be on display for a second time on May 10, at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) new downtown office, at 1040 7th Ave. S.W.

“I made this project to showcase people with mental illnesses as being regular humans and not people to be scared of,” said Miller.

“The idea is to get people talking.”

Miller, who has suffered from severe anxiety in the past, was inspired to take the project on after the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams in 2014.

At that time, a photograph of Williams, looking uncharacteristically distraught, appeared on the front page of a local newspaper, along with the announcement of his suicide.

“Out of all the pictures they could have used, they went ahead and chose one that played into everyone’s stigma of mental illnesses,” said Miller. “I thought it was really unfair.”

It was that same stigma when Miller was younger that caused him to keep his own struggles with anxiety a secret. It took him several years to build the confidence to seek help.

Mental health wasn’t something people understood in the mid 70’s and the only way to describe someone suffering from mental illness was with words like “crazy, insane or nuts.”

“It was an isolating time,” Miller recalled in an interview.

Since Miller never had the support he needed earlier on in life to handle his mental challenges, Home of the Brave is his way of paying it forward.

“If I could help to reduce the suffering of even just one person, it would be all worth it,” said Miller.

“The photos are all so beautiful and just seeing them takes away the shame of mental health as something that shouldn’t be spoken of,” said Todd Hirsch, author of Halfway Home, a book discussing his personal struggles with depression and mental health.

Hirsch, who is vice-president and chief economist at ATB Financial, first heard of Miller and his project through a mutual friend. After being introduced, the two met for coffee and discussed their personal struggles with mental health.

“One of the things I loved most about Danny’s concept was that by taking photos of regular, ordinary people who have all in some way been touched with mental health concerns, we reduce the stigma,” said Hirsch.

In that meeting, Miller explained his vision for Home of the Brave, and mentioned to Hirsch that he’d like to see his work eventually displayed in a physical space.

Knowing ATB’s Stephen Avenue branch had rotating art shows that fit with what Miller had in mind, Hirsch put him in touch with the branch manager, and several months later, the first show was launched.

“I think the more comfortable we become talking about mental health issues, the better off we will all be in managing and dealing with them,” Hirsch said.

Regular meetings with trained psychologists were one of the main ways Miller has been able to deal with his own anxiety.

Talking to people about what he was going through helped Miller to understand his suffering wasn’t something he had to deal with on his own.

“For me, it’s about knowing where I could go and what I could do to handle my anxiety,” said Miller.

A recent survey by The Press of  SAIT students revealed that while 40 per cent of respondents say that they deal with some degree of stress on a regular basis, only nine per cent said they are actually seeking help from a counsellor.

The online survey was conducted in late February and early March of this year.

[su_quote]If I could help to reduce the suffering of even just one person, it would be all worth it. – Danny Miller[/su_quote]

“I believe the reason people aren’t going to counsellors for help is because they are still ashamed of the stigma,” said Miller.

“You don’t have to be suffering for 30 years like I did.”

Home of the Brave will be available for public viewing from 3 to 7 p.m. on May 10,  as part of the CMHA’s open house.

About Mitchell Danser 3 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Mitchell Danser worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2017-18 academic year.

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