Using Photovoice to Reflect on Healthy Student Living and Aging

Whether it is through social media outlets, economic plans or healthcare budget allocations, Canadians have been made aware that the country has a rapidly aging population. Such demographic changes pose multi-faceted challenges that must be addressed to provide all members of the population an opportunity to age successfully and comfortably. It is important to involve all sectors of the population in the decision making process. Healthy aging is fundamentally a community effort.

When the Student Subcommittee decided to tackle this subject, one of the obstacles we faced was making the topic relevant to University students. We wanted to reach out to students from an array of academic backgrounds and spark dialogue on a subject that, on its surface, seems far removed from students’ personal realities.

Under the Lens: Healthy Student Living was the subject of a two-part workshop that took place on February 26th and March 5th. These sessions employed the Photovoice methodology as a means for participants to illustrate their habits and the associated consequences through photography.

On the first day, Dr. Katharine Morrison provided participants with a research-based context on healthy student living. Morrison suggested that an increasingly sedentary lifestyle is the major cause of obesity, stress and anxiety. These health outcomes can go on to adversely affect people’s mental and physical health as they age. The discussion led by Morrison prompted participants to think about the root causes of the problems being faced by the current aging population.

Sarah Glen, an experienced Photovoice facilitator, then led the participants to consider how to capture their ideas and thoughts in photography. Students were provided disposable cameras and asked to photograph their interpretation of healthy student living, healthy aging and the associated challenges and possible solutions.

Following are individual examples of photographs taken by participants:

“Mapping Paradise”
As we age, we progressively become obsessed with mapping out our plans. We map out our ideal education, we map out our ideal career, we map out our ideal family. Although we plan for change, things go wrong and quite often, these plans fall through. These failed plans become a source of stress, anxiety and disappointment. It is important to remember that the joy in life lies in the journey and not the destination.
Jenny Hoang, 2013
Despite the friendly environment of the library, it remains a place of stress in my mind. I come with the expectation of a long day. Others drink large double doubles, some frantically highlight, and a few fall asleep out of exhaustion. Many resignedly discuss the mark they need just to pass their upcoming midterm. As we enter this environment, we pass the positive messages in the entranceway. These messages are meant to be encouraging, but being told to “Keep our Heads above the Water” is a bit depressing for students struggling to stay afloat. The athletes in the images don’t help; they remind us not only that we are a bit behind academically, but also we should have hit the gym! Sometimes messages designed to promote a balanced lifestyle can add to students’ stress when they provide no advice on how to achieve this lifestyle and only serve to remind students of the successful life that they don’t quite seem to be leading.
Kara Hounsell, 2013

At the second workshop, Glen guided the group in sharing and engaging in critical discussions about their photography. Participants realized that each of their photographs illustrated a unique and personal challenge to healthy aging and healthy student life. A take-home message from this workshop series was that personal awareness plays a crucial role in problem-solving at any level, and community engagement can be a tool to increase community awareness.

As Canada moves forward in addressing the challenges of an aging population, community-based engagement will play a crucial role in the success of the implemented changes and proposed solutions.

To view the entire selected series of photos taken by participants, please visit our album on the McMaster Health Forum Facebook page.

By Amanda Chen and Haniya Khan, Student Subcommittee Members


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