Photo Essay

  • Scott Patrick walks down Peach Tree Street in Atlanta on a cold January morning. He says, “I like to go outside, and observe people.” Patrick, 48 years old, has struggled with addiction, takes medication for bi-polar disorder and suffers from anxiety and PTSD. He is currently drug free and is now but is still homeless and spends his nights at the Atlanta Baptist Mission. Between 6am and 4pm the mission is closed so Scott usually spends the day walking around Atlanta stopping in malls, cafes and observing people passing by.
  • Scott Patrick gets ready to walk into the cold from one of his usual haunts, a coffee shop near the Peach Tree Centre in Atlanta. He says, “Just because you have people that look different, you get treated different.”
  • Donn Smith, who is wheel chair bound due to Polio, takes a break as he makes his way up a hill to the CNN Center in Atlanta to get a coffee. Smith is the son of an American G.I. and a Vietnamese women. He is now homeless and struggles with addiction and depression. He also takes medication for various health issues including diabetes and back problems. He says “If they do budget cuts I am in trouble.’ He thinks if these fiscal cuts occur “There will be more suicides.” “People need their medications to keep them from hurting themselves or other people.”
  • Shantel Murray, 37 years old suffers from suffers schizoaffective disorder. Murray, during one of her three weekly visits with Grady Hospital’s outpatient Assertive Community Treatment (A.C.T.) team that follows her care in Atlanta, Georgia. Today they discuss how to set appropriate boundaries with friends and family and go over her treatment plan.
  • Men wait in line to get lunch and a bed at the Shepherd’s Inn, a men’s shelter that serves some 425 men per day in downtown Atlanta. It is one of four facilities run by the Atlanta Mission. During the cold spell in January, the shelter was overwhelmed, but managed to house and feed nearly 2000 men per day.
  • Men lining up to get a full hot lunch at the Shepherd’s Inn in Atlanta. During the cold spell in January, the shelter was overwhelmed and fed up to 2000 men per day.
  • Pastor Michael Sheppard, called Pastor Mike by the shelter’s guests, is the Director of Shepherd’s Inn. Pastor Mike delivers what he calls a ‘motivational moment’ as the men wait to be assigned a bed for the night. He talks to them about the choices we make and trying to break bad habits and then leads them through a prayer.
  • ‘Sign-In’ for a bed begins after lunch at the Shepherd’s Inn. A man waits for his spot in line to get his bed as the lunch service clears. Men who have a disability and need a wheelchair or a cane for mobility get their bed first.
  • ‘Sign-In’ for a bed begins after lunch at the Shepherd’s Inn. A man waits for his spot in line to get his bed as the lunch service clears.
  • Solomon Abraham gets signed in to the Shepherd’s Inn and gets assigned his bed. Abraham is a veteran and has struggled with addiction but is now stable. He is assigned tasks to help with at the shelter and now has a girlfriend.
  • Donn Smith, waits to be signed in to get a bed for the night at the Shepherd’s Inn, men’s shelter in Atlanta. Smith dreams of setting up a program called ‘Project Return’ which would reunite families who have lost each other.
  • Phillip Haynes, who suffers from schizophrenia and depression is now stable and living independently. He walks around his living room during a visit from his Assertive Community Treatment Team (A.C.T) counsellor.
  • Phillip Haynes, who suffers from schizophrenia and depression meets with his A.C.T. team counsellor. In one year Philip has gone from living on the streets and being actively delusional, to stability and lucidity. Haynes is now living independently in a one bedroom apartment, taking his medication regularly and preparing for a job interview he was scheduled to have that week. Philip and his mother, Denise Haynes believe that this would not have been possible without the help of the Grady Assertive Community Treatment Team who meet with him several times a week.
  • Donn Smith, who is homeless and has struggled with addiction and depression, makes his way up a hill to the CNN Center to get a coffee. Smith says “I ride around and observe people. If I have a little money I’ll get a coffee, sit and watch how people interact. Watch how families work.”
  • Nancy Jackson, 45 years old, suffers from depression and anxiety, and rests in her room at My Sister’s House a shelter for women in Atlanta. Nancy was referred by her church to my Sister’s House after struggling with an addiction to “vodka and Vicodin”. She says “I had to stop or I was going to die.” She believes that “If I wasn’t able to receive services from St. Joseph’s or Grady Hospital, I would still be self-medicating.” Jackson is recently a grandmother for the first time, and was anticipating a visit from her grandson the next week.
  • Scott Patrick prays at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Atlanta. On what he thinks these fiscal cuts will mean to the people who need mental health care: “Some people will die. They don’t have enough as it is.”
  • Dawn Harris, a 33 year old mother of seven, with her 2 year old son Devhan in their room at My Sister’s House a shelter for women in Atlanta. When asked what her hopes and wishes for the future were, Harris said: “I want to show my kids what I haven’t shown them in the past, and what my mother couldn’t show me. I just want to be independent and lead a normal life and go to church.”
  • Dawn Harris, a 33 year old mother of seven, walks with her two youngest children Alicea and Devhan to their room at My Sister’s House a shelter for women in Atlanta. After struggling with addiction and depression for years and being unable to support all of her kids who range in age from 1 year to 16 by herself, Dawn said she was “Tired of having them see me that way. I refuse to have my youngest see me like that. My kids are all I have, and I am all they have”. Harris enrolled herself into the year-long personal development, job placement and detox program at My Sister’s House a Women’s shelter in Atlanta.
  • Dawn Harris, a 33 year old mother of seven, waits to be assigned a job during her ‘task’ time in the kitchen. After struggling with addiction and depression for years, and being unable to support all of her kids who range in age from 1 year old to 16 by herself.
  • Scott Patrick, has a cigarette at 6:30am in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Patrick, 48 years old, has struggled with addiction, takes medication for bi-polar disorder and suffers from anxiety and PTSD. He is currently drug free but is still homeless and spends his nights at the Atlanta Baptist Mission. Between 6am and 4pm the mission is closed so Patrick spends the day walking through Atlanta stopping in malls, cafes and observing people passing by.
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Families brace for health care cuts

Updated

The discussion around the potential cuts to health care in Georgia—who is responsible, what will be cut and when—these questions are political and complicated. On the sidelines of this discussion are the individuals and families who fear what this will mean to their health, their families, and their ability to lead regular lives.

In Atlanta, community workers like Pastor Michael Sheppard, director of the men’s shelter Shepherd’s Inn, and social worker Pat Jones of My Sister’s House, a women’s shelter, devote their lives to helping people through hard times. But they cannot do it alone. They know that people with serious mental illness need continuity of care, and that access to anti-psychotic medications is critical to the safety of not just the individual, but entire communities. They, too, are scared of what this news will mean to the communities they serve.

As the daughter of a man who suffers from schizophrenia, I know what this kind of news would mean to a family. I know how painful it would be to learn that your loved one may not be able to access their medication, or meet with their psychiatrist, or be provided with the stability of having a social worker in their life. I know categorically that without these supports my father may not be alive today.

I saw my father in the men and women I met and photographed in Atlanta. Many of the people in these photographs were not dealt an easy hand to begin with, and mental illness adds an enormous challenge. In spite of this, these mothers, fathers, daughters and sons are working hard to stay healthy, to support their families, and sometimes simply to survive another day.

Dawn Harris, a 33-year-old mother of seven who suffers from depression and related addictions, has enrolled herself in the year-long job placement and detox program at my Sister’s House. “I was tired of having my kids see me that way,” she said. I met her on day 29 of the program. She is committed to her recovery, stays late in class to make sure she has everything right, and works hard at her assigned kitchen chores before she picks up her kids from daycare.

Dawn is terrified of what these funding cuts might mean for the futures of her children, one of whom is autistic and three of whom suffer from trauma related to an abusive former partner she left. When asked about her hopes, Dawn said: “I want to show my kids what I haven’t shown them in the past, and what my mother couldn’t show me. I just want to be independent, and lead a normal life, and go to church.”

If these fiscal cuts occur, I am left wondering how this basic wish for good health and a simple life will be possible for all of the strong Americans I met in Atlanta.

I hope that for Dawn and her children her wishes can still come true.

Amanda Tétrault is a photographer from Montreal, Canada. She is the author of the photographic book “Phil and Me” (Trolley Books) and is an advocate for awareness of mental health issues and their impact on families, and on children living with mentally ill parents.