Portraits of Resilience, an online narrative series published in The Tech and covered in Slice of MIT earlier this year, has been expanded into a book that features MIT community members sharing how they were able to cope with, and sometimes overcome, mental health challenges.
Produced by Professor Daniel Jackson SM ’88, PhD ’92, Portraits of Resilience includes photographs and first-person accounts from students, alumni, and faculty who have suffered from depression and anxiety. The book is now available from MIT Press.
“Mental health is a critical issue throughout society,” Jackson says. “Social and cultural factors can create an enormous amount of stress and anxiety. MIT is helping shed light on that.”
The series was conceived by Jackson in 2015 after reading republished Tech editorials from Professor John Belcher and then-student Grace Taylor ’12, who detailed their struggles with depression and mental illness. Jackson, an accomplished photographer, sought to share similar stories and worked with Alice Zielinski ’16 and Tamar Weseley ’16, co-chairs of the Undergraduate Association’s Student Support and Wellness Committee, to connect with current students.
When you have real people, telling real stories, it can be a source of reassurance to people who are suffering.
“When you have real people, telling real stories, it can be a source of reassurance to people who are suffering,” Jackson says. “It goes beyond de-stigmatization; it celebrates resilience.”
The original series, published in spring 2016, featured 18 community members discussing their struggles with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar mental health issues. The updated Portraits of Resiliencefeatures four new stories and includes 43 full-page photographs taken by Jackson.
Many of the subjects are students. “I was astonished by the openness and generosity of these students to share such personal stories,” Jackson says. “They’re thinking about big questions of meaning and purpose in life, and their capacities of understanding and reserves of strength are extraordinary.”
The book, nearly an all-MIT affair, was published by MIT Press and supported by grants from MIT’s Mind Hand Heart Innovation Fund and the MIT Council for the Arts. An anonymous alum organized a Pi Day fundraising campaign that will give a copy of the book to incoming first-year students.
“This is a project by MIT, but for the world,” Jackson said. “MIT is helping show how to honestly talk about mental health issues. What excites me about these stories is that there is something to teach all of us.”