In December 2018, my wife, Susie, who works at St John of God Midland Emergency Department, collapsed and was rushed to hospital. Following her hospital ICU admission, her colleagues completely overwhelmed me with their support for our four children and myself – the fridge and pantry were filled to overflowing, house cleaned and tidied, clothes and bedding washed and dried and the garden made-over. Kids presents appeared under the Christmas tree, and a continuous supply of amazing meals and supportive online commentary just kept on coming.
After Susie was discharged, I decided I wanted to do something to say thank you to her colleagues – not just a gift or box of chocolates that would be rapidly forgotten, but something meaningful, something representative of the support I had received in my time of need. As a paramedic myself I regularly visit Midland Emergency Department and experience the challenges and stress faced by the staff, but I have also seen the behind the scenes work undertaken by the staff in an attempt to raise the mental health well-being of their colleagues and visiting emergency services.
One initiative was the introduction of a photographic wall and monthly photographic competition, where staff (along with local emergency services) are given a monthly theme and are encouraged to print their photographs for display in the main ED corridor and a winner is chosen by a staff member. As a qualified professional photographer for 22 years, this was an area which I thought I could develop further, promoting an initiative which could continue to support department staff wellness and camaraderie.
This is how the Midland Emergency Photography Club was born. A warm and friendly community group providing the opportunity for those interested in photography – regardless of ability and experience – to come together to talk and learn photography along with ideas for shooting images for the monthly photographic wall competition. In addition, I could also see another potential positive benefit to the club.
After nearly 20 years as a paramedic, I understand how working in an Emergency Department or emergency services environment, following exposure to traumatic events or just simply a chronic build up of difficult experiences, can lead to personal mental health challenges and demons. Personally, photography is a place that allows me to escape and find calmness and focus.
While allowing individuals to express themselves, photography has also been proven to bring focus to positive life experiences, enhance self-worth and even reduce cortisol – the stress hormone. The process of taking photographs – from selecting the subject and viewpoint, to manipulating light, to taking the photograph, to post-processing and printing – can require absolute focus. Concentrating on this focus can become an almost meditative task, which can draw you into a peaceful state. Photography can become a place to reflect individual values, thoughts and desires, allowing you to manifest the kind of world you want to see.
It is hoped that the Midland Emergency Photography Club will simply be an opportunity for staff from Midland ED and local emergency services to enjoy all aspects of photography in an relaxed, calm and supportive environment. While not aiming to be an art therapy or mental health support group, any positive mental-health wellness experience gained from participating in a creative pursuit – already proven to reduce stress hormone levels, which in turn lowers feelings of anxiety, improves sleep and elevates mood – will simply be a pleasant bonus.