Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On the Road with the Photovoice Show: An Intern’s Reflections

By Alice Chan, ICH Summer Intern

Tufts University Psychology Student Class of 2015

How do a crossword puzzle, a tennis racket, and food relate to mental health? According to eight Asian American teens, these items symbolize what they perceive to be the strongest influences on mental health and well-being: self care, the social environment, and family. For one teen, something seemingly as mundane as a tennis racket is significant for mental health: “tennis is a huge stress reliever for the workload I get from school.”

From January to April 2013, these eight teens developed their perspective, or “voice,” on mental health and wellness using Photovoice, a participatory visual method that utilizes photography to promote social change.  Developed by Caroline C. Wang and Mary Anne Burris in 1994, the Photovoice initiative helps youth explore and expand their understanding of a social issue through story-telling and photography (PhotoVoice, 2013). With support from Institute for Community Health’s (ICH’s) Dr. Shalini Tendulkar, the Chinese Culture Connection (CCC), and the Asian American Civic Association (AACA) - eight Malden teens used Photovoice to search within their communities and themselves to answer the following: “As an Asian American teenager, I think mental wellness is…”   

The results of their hard work—24 vibrant images and detailed reflections—were recognized state-wide. In April, The Families for Depression Awareness, a national non-profit organization, awarded the youth and the project partners the 2013 Distinguished Service in Mental Health Advocacy Award. Following this honor, the teens’ photos were presented in a series of public exhibitions, ranging from the 4th Annual Asian Pacific Islander Mental Health Forum to a special showcase at Malden City Hall. For the teens, most of whom are Malden residents, the opportunity to connect with their community through photography was ineffably meaningful:

“Photovoice made me think more about my own mental health, and the ways I could improve it. There are many factors that can badly influence our mental health, and with a different mindset we can change the way we live starting with our daily routines and experiencing new settings.”

All together, the photos held powerful messages reflecting what mental health and wellness mean to these teens as Asian Americans growing up in 2013.
As an undergraduate intern at ICH and an Asian American, I was amazed by the depth of the teens’ introspections on mental health in their diverse photos and original writings. At the end of this yearlong project, the teens invited the world to see mental health through their eyes, and academics, city officials, and community members alike were deeply touched by their stories.  It is clear that this traveling photo show made true lasting impressions on the community members of Malden and Boston, the project personnel, and me. I am so proud to have been involved with this project with Dr. Tendulkar, CCC, AACA, and, most importantly, our youth. What an incredible and unforgettable experience!
Learn about the ICH Internship Program

PhotoVoice. "Background to the Field: PhotoVoice, Photovoice Methodology and Participatory Photography." PhotoVoice, 2013. Web. 27 Aug. 2013. <>. 


 The views expressed on the Institute for Community Health blog page are solely those of the blog post author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICH, the author’s employer or other organizations with which the author is associated.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Redefining Research

By Nicole Updegrove, ICH Summer Intern

Wesleyan University Psychology Student Class of 2014

Before my internship at the Institute for Community Health (ICH) this summer, when asked whether I planned to pursue a health research career or direct clinical work with patients, I chose patients every time. Clinical work provides visible, short-term help with long-term impact. In contrast, at my university, even research in applied fields such as psychology and sociology often felt utterly removed from the people it sought to help; the concept of the “ivory tower” seemed to ring true.

Throughout my undergraduate career, I’ve worked on a handful of research initiatives, including studying the link between family religion and depression and how nicotine addiction operates. This type of research is incredibly valuable, and will probably lead to big changes ten years down the line. However, the road to change is often paved with academic papers, which are published and (maybe) found and implemented years later by policy reform committees or dedicated individuals. Often, community volunteers who participated in experiments or filled out surveys will never experience the results of the research.

As a student striving to "make a difference" in my community, it seemed that research just wasn't for me.

Despite these misgivings (and somewhat unexpectedly), I ended up working for the summer at ICH as an intern with a job description that sounded suspiciously like research. I combed through the previously scorned academic literature, looking for ways to measure an adolescent’s sense of control over his or her circumstances. I attended meetings with community partners to discuss the ways that trauma affects kids in Cambridge, and how to better help these kids in and outside the classroom. I worked to devise new ways of gauging the situational safety and emotional recovery of young girls involved in the sex trade. And even though I sat behind a computer most of the day, it felt a lot like I was helping people. The work I was involved in had community partners’ input and explicitly sought to improve services for the populations using them.

ICH was my first encounter with what is called “community-based participatory research,” an approach to research that is critical to ICH’s mission.  In CBPR, community partners (and their clients) who participate in research activities benefit directly from the work, often in real time rather than five or ten years later. During the short time I was at ICH, I got to see how participatory research approaches help community partners better utilize funding, time, and energy to serve the populations they work with. I saw firsthand how bridging statistics or  data analysis  with community interests and needs can improve people’s lives in visible, measurable ways. The sex trade survivor mentorship program, for example, should be able to use our tools to gain more funding to hire and train more mentors, as well as better identify needs among the girls that could be better suited. Advancements like these advance the health of an entire community.

As I wrap up my work at ICH and think about my career and continued studies after graduation, my parents and peers again ask – Will you research? Or will you work with patients? After my work with community partners here, I’ve started to realize that perhaps my answer really can be “both.”

Learn about the ICH Internship Program


The views expressed on the Institute for Community Health blog page are solely those of the blog post author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICH, the author’s employer or other organizations with which the author is associated.