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Photographer & Creative
Photography Helps Heal Sick

For people with schizophrenia, art can play a decisive role in their recovery, says Claire O'Connell.

Creating a work of art can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. For people with schizophrenia, the creative process can also play a role in their recovery.

As well as providing an outlet for feelings, creativity can help boost self-esteem, problem-solving and even encourage social interactions.

Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental illness that affects one in 100 people worldwide. Symptoms may include disturbances in thoughts and behaviour, experiencing delusions and hearing voices.

However, with the right conditions and support, you can make a recovery, says John Saunders, director of Schizophrenia Ireland. Recovery is not a cure, but rather a journey that involves the person coming to terms with the condition and managing their symptoms and lifestyle, he adds.

The main treatment for schizophrenia is medication. For some people, creative pursuits can also help, says Saunders.

"Recovery is not just about getting rid of the symptoms of the condition, it's about rebuilding your life," he says. "A part of that in severe illness is about redeveloping yourself and building your own self-worth, and art does that for certain people."

For Seán Hamill, artwork has been an integral part of his recovery from schizophrenia. He uses creativity as a way of relaxing and letting things out, but also as a means to problem-solve and provide affirmations.

"Imagine you are doing a drawing and you say to yourself this line means that I'm learning to relax around others," he explains.

"By the end of a drawing, which is thousands of lines, you have got a lot of ideas and goals. Although you don't consciously remember what you were thinking when you drew each of these lines, I believe you would remember them subconsciously. That's how it works."

Creative pursuits can also help a person deal with the intricacy of their mental illness, says Hamill.

"Mental illness is very complex and by doing artwork you can simplify it in your own mind and work with it," he says.

Hamill developed schizophrenia when he was a student of classical animation. He says artwork kept his "head above water" before he found medication that worked for him.

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