(Em)Placing Recovery: Sites of Health and Wellness for Individuals with Serious Mental Illness Living in Supported Housing

These images are a part of a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR grant No. 299123) funded study “Moving from Custodial to Autonomous Housing: The Lived Experience of Residents and their Recovery from Serious Mental Illness”, exploring how moving from structured housing to supported housing affects personal recovery and community connections for individuals living with serious mental illness in 4 Canadian cities, across 3 provinces.

We used photo-elicitation, where respondents determine what they will photograph on a particular topic, and their photographs serve as the basis of a qualitative, in-depth interview. Our overall aim was to illustrate how visual methods can be used to reveal how mental health recovery is ‘emplaced’ (materially and symbolically situated in time and space), and how places factor into the ‘everyday work of recovery’.

These photographs represent 5 themes: (1) the characteristics distinguishing “home” from housing; (2) the importance of amenities offered by supported housing; (3) the connections between accessibility, mobility, and wellbeing; (4) the role of certain places in facilitating aspects of recovery such as offering hope or facilitating social connectedness; and (5) the concrete and metaphorical impact of changing vantage points on identity (re)construction.

Submitted by:
Myra Piat and Kimberly Seida

From Housing to Home

After struggling with surveillance in custodial housing, tenants like Paul see their apartment as a ‘home’ rather than merely ‘housing’, because of the privacy and personal space it provides. Paul underlines these key advantages to supported housing through this photo of his apartment door, signifying the demarcation of his living space.

Photographer: “Paul”

From Basics to Bonuses

This photograph reflects Ben’s appreciation for the amenities offered in his apartment, which were often missing in custodial housing. Access to in-house laundry facilities represents a major positive change in his daily life, offering convenience and a cheaper alternative to laundromats. Most significantly, laundry machines signify the development of his autonomy.

Photographer: “Ben”

From Here to There, and Everywhere

“Here, we are well; we are in the middle of everything”: a major positive change in Pierre’s life is conveniently located supporting housing. Accessible housing allows him to go where he needs and wants to go, and enhances his wellbeing by providing the opportunity to access and enjoy local greenspaces.

Photographer: “Pierre”

Closer to God

Since moving into supported housing, Ian frequently goes to church and finds it meaningful and rewarding. In explaining his photograph, he stresses the importance of living near a church. For him, a ‘holy space’ in close proximity to home strengthens his spiritual life, contributes to positive changes, and facilitates recovery.
Photographer: “Ian”

New views and vantage points

Several tenants, including Paul, used their photographs to reflect changes supported housing had wrought in their lives in both concrete and metaphorical ways. The photo-elicitation activity transformed seemingly banal objects such as a park bench into dynamic sites of recovery, offering opportunities for rest, reflection, and seeing the world afresh.
Photographer: “Paul”