Peter Szto, professor of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s (UNO) Grace Abbott School of Social Work, is making strides against mental health stigmas.
Szto aims to re-imagine how mental illness is viewed with real-world images. The goal is to reduce stigma and to normalize mental illness by highlighting our common human dignity.
The idea originated while Szto was in college working at a psychiatric hospital. “I loved the relationships and seeing people get better--these clinical experiences have inspired my teaching and research,” says Szto. “Before coming to UNO 15 years ago, I had dreamed of integrating my passion for photography and mental health. UNO has been a supportive place for me to pursue art and social work projects.”
Szto’s current research exhibit, “Coming into: Mental Health and Stigma in Council Bluffs, IA, and Canton, China,” uses documentary photography to re-imagine mental illness. “The exhibit juxtaposes everyday scenes from China’s oldest psychiatric hospital with environmental portraits of persons with severe and persistent mental illness living in Council Bluffs,” says Szto. “The visual dialogue between Canton and Council Bluffs confronts negative images of mental illness in terms of depravity, bizarre, violent, and crazy.”
Images are on display at the Kaneko-UNO Library Gallery at 1111 Jones St., in downtown Omaha now through May 2020. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
“My work directly impacts the field of social work by demonstrating the value and validity of documentary photography as a tool of social research,” Szto shares. “I hope more students, colleagues, researchers, and practitioners can also use the arts in social work.”
Szto’s partnership with Heartland Family Service was instrumental to the project. The Heartland Family Service Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) program is an evidence-based approach to comprehensive, community-based treatment for persons with serious mental illness. The program aims to provide persons with serious mental illnesses a chance to live successfully within the community.
Szto is on a mission to spread awareness about mental health and the stigma associated with mental illness. “The exhibit is a unique opportunity for visual evidence to challenge seeing mental illness through a different lens,” Szto says. “The exhibit demonstrates UNO’s College of Public Affairs and Community Service (CPACS) initiative on scholarship of engagement with a highly vulnerable population, as well as fulfilling the college’s mission.”
If you have a story idea, news tip or inquiry please contact: