On the 9th of October Robin Hammond, a
documentary photographer and filmmaker, has been selected as the
2014 winner of the Dr. Guislain "Breaking the Chains of Stigma"
Award for his striking photojournalism that exposes the
mistreatment of mentally ill people in African nations in crisis.
The Dr. Guislain Award program is a joint project of the Museum Dr.
Guislain and Janssen Research & Development, LLC. Janssen
provides financial and in-kind support for the program. The award
winner receives a $50,000 prize that must be used toward further
work to reduce societal stigma about mental health and disorders of
the brain. Hammond's body of work will be honored today at a
ceremony in New York City.
"The Dr. Guislain Award is proud to honor the work of advocates
like Mr. Hammond who have illuminated the fight against stigma
related to mental illness," said Siri Hustvedt, jury member of the
Dr. Guislain Award selection committee and internationally known
author of twelve books, including an account of her own
neurological illness. "Through the power of photography, Hammond
has raised crucial awareness of the challenges faced by people with
mental illness in countries were mental health care is
under-resourced or nonexistent."
Breaking the chains of stigma - Robin
For people with mental disability in war, in displaced
populations, in regions wracked by corruption, life is dire. I
didn't know this before January 2011. While covering a story for a
newspaper I found a section of a prison in South Sudan where the
inmates were naked and shackled to the floor: they had mental
disabilities. They had committed no crime.
I had never thought about the long term consequences of
disasters. We cover wars, famines, natural disasters, and
displacements of people on the continent. Once the peace treaty is
signed, the emergency food relief delivered, the flood waters have
receeded, we leave. For the media the story is finished. The
suffering is not. Deep psychological scars remain, and when the
dust settles, the facilities and staff to support the mentally
disabled often no longer exist.
Discovering the incarcerated mentally ill in South Sudan started
me on a journey to investigate other troubled regions. Over the
course of three years, in ten different African countries, I
documented the mental health impact of crises. In countries in war,
in refugee camps, in mental health facilities in regions sucked dry
by corruption, and in countries with dysfunctional health systems,
I discovered a population confined to the dark corners of churches,
chained to rusted hospital beds, kept behind bars in filthy
At the heart of the issue is overwhelming stigma attached to
mental illness. It means that many people living with these
disabilities are not seen, their voices are not heard. It is not
that they do not have the ability to advocate for themselves, it is
that they are not allowed to, after-all, they are 'crazy'. Because
of this, the enormity of the problem is hidden. The World Health
Organization says one in three Somalis will suffer a mental illness
in their lifetime. In countries in crisis stigma results in an
entire section of communities at best, overlooked by their own
society, at worst, the victims of severe maltreatment.
My photography project 'CONDEMNED' endevours to bring the
neglect and abuse they suffer to light, to advocate on their
behalf, to give them the voice they have been denied. Statistics
become faces, people have names, the de-humanised become human.
Precedents exist of attitudes, practices, and policies being
affected by art and media movements. Aids, famine, Blood Diamonds,
the Vietnam War, even slavery - campaigns have inspired enormous
This initiative is just as ambitious: to create a movement to
raise awareness and end the stigma infecting all parties from the
smallest African village, right up to the World Health
With the help of The Dr. Guislain Award I will be able to make
the light on this issue shine brightly. With still and moving
images I will document those working, with little or no support, on
mental health in African countries in crisis. These humble
ambassadors of hope will provide an avenue for change countering
the scenes of horror I present in my earlier work. They will
feature in an awreness raising campaign that will spearhead a giant
leap towards influencing public opinion and targeting policy
makers. With the help of The Dr. Guislain Award I will drag this
issue out of the darkness - no longer will ignorance be an alibi
I left South Sudan in January 2011 with a prison cell full of
innocent people weighing heavily on my mind. The hardest part of
making this work is knowing that three years later, most of them
are still there.
With the aid of this award we can free them from their shackles.
It may take time, and it will certainly take work, but I believe
that once people see, they will care, and when they care, they will
act to break, one link at a time, the chains of stigma.