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18 Aug 2021

Photography has the power to improve our mental wellbeing

Paul Williams Photography

Photography can have a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing. It can boost self-esteem, confidence, memory, and decision making. It can be a form of mindfulness which can help people suffering from depression, anxiety and even PTSD.

When he was first diagnosed with PTSD, SANE champion Paul Williams was catapulted into some very dark places. However, he reluctantly accepted his life would never be the same and turned to photography in a bid to regain some normality.

For World Photo Day (19 Aug), Paul describes how picking up a camera as he struggled with PTSD helped to transform his journey of recovery.

The need for adrenaline

I was born in the Lake District where my love for all things natural took firm root and, by the age of 13, I was already hiking and camping amongst the mountains and forests of Cumbria. I joined the Army at 17 and served in many different places before becoming a physical training instructor specialising in adventurous training.

Paul Williams Photography - Kingfisher Beak Open

On leaving the forces I sat for a degree in mental health nursing and went on to work in Assertive Outreach before deciding I was missing my drug of choice – adrenaline – and became a police officer.

In 2010, I saved a number of people from a woman armed with a samurai sword using only my pepper spray. Several weeks later I ended up driving myself into A&E believing I was having a cardiac event only to be told it was a panic attack and to see my GP the next morning.

After being signed off work for seven days with “stress” I quickly became very unwell and never returned to the job I loved. My eventual diagnosis of PTSD catapulted me to some very dark places and several suicide attempts before I reluctantly began to accept that I had a mental illness that was going to change my life forever.

Photography gives us a voice

With acceptance though comes healing and I began to pick up my camera once more and ventured out into my garden. By this time, I was virtually a recluse which isn’t great when you have five amazing children depending on you, so I dug deep and pushed myself to take at least one image a day irrespective of how I was feeling.

Paul Williams Photography - Approaching Storm

I began to travel further afield, gained more confidence and in 2018 found myself in the Arctic taking images of polar bears. I’ve since appeared on Countryfile, BBC News, Radio 4 and 5 and more recently The Great British Photography Challenge.

I’m passionate about my photography and the power it has to improve our physical and mental wellbeing as well as giving many of us voices with which we can express ourselves without words. Its universal language is understood by all cultures and it literally has the power to change lives. It did with mine and despite ongoing symptoms I’m so pleased to be here 11 years on from my breakdown.

I ask this of each and every one of you out there. Get creative. Express what’s going on for you in a way that’s meaningful to you – and ask for help if you’re struggling.

Letting someone know you’re not coping isn’t a weakness. It’s a strength.

Related Content

Read more at Paul: Recovery and personal redemption from PTSD

You can see more of Paul’s work at

SANE’s Creative Awards Scheme offers artists affected by mental illness grants to buy materials, enrol on courses, hold exhibitions and develop creative potential. Applications are now open and we welcome photographic entries. Find out more at SANE Creative Awards Scheme

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