The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Exploring the “fine line” between mental health and mental illness

Michael Nye captures the thin boundary between mental health and mental illness through pictures and interviews of people across the country. Photo credit: Paige Kerley

To many people, a drunk homeless man stumbling around in the street would be a sad situation to be avoided. To photographer Michael Nye, he saw more. He saw a person with a story. After three days of spending time with this man, he heard the magic words: “I’m gonna tell you everything.”

Nye, a former lawyer, set out to explore the fragile boundary between mental health and mental illness. He said his dad experienced dementia, a friend was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and his former law partner committed suicide. Mental illness affects everyone in a unique way, he said, yet no one really talks about it. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 18.6 percent of all adults in the United States experience a mental disorder.

“Everyone talks about eating right and exercising,” said Nye. “But no one asks how your mental health is doing.”

Nye traveled the country looking for participants. From Philadelphia to Las Vegas, from Little Rock, Ark. to north Texas, he captured over 50 personalities and their stories. He spent two to four days with each person, spending a few hours at a time talking to them and recording their experiences. He then whittled down the interview to a clip ranging from four to six minutes and created his Fine Line exhibit.

“He pulled the gem of wisdom out of every story,” said Diane Feffer, the exhibit’s marketing consultant.

Feffer, a consultant specializing in mental health events, said she found Nye on the Internet and thought his exhibit would be perfect for an event. After speaking with Nye and partnering his exhibit with Mental Health America of Greater Dallas, Feffer was excited to bring Nye’s work to SMU.

“I thought, Dallas is ready for this,” she said.

Mental Health America of Greater Dallas is the main presenter of the exhibit, which is located in the lobby of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

“Our goal with this event is to reduce stigma and promote awareness of mental illness,” said MHA President Matt Roberts.

The exhibit, completed in 2003 and 2004, is unique in the way it presents the individuals featured in Nye’s work. The clean, crisp lines of the easels hold a large framed picture of each person, with an audio box with headphones underneath. The audio box displays the person’s first name and the length of the audio clip- not their disorder.

“It prevents people from judging what they see in the picture,” said Feffer. “This way you see the person without the label.”

The audio clip gives the exhibit an intimate feel, allowing the viewers to actually hear the voices of the people in the photograph telling their own stories. For example, Jamie’s British accent adds a worldly identity to her story while Susan’s low bluesy tones make her account very lyrical. All interviews were “brutally honest” according to Nye.

“I wasn’t looking a success story, I was looking for their story,” he said.

The participants are affected by a variety of illnesses- substance abuse, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are just a few. Nye wanted to point out that while these are illnesses, there is hope.

“Mental illness is treatable,” he said. “It’s not a weakness of character, it’s an illness.”

The lobby of the Simmons building was busy with the opening reception for the exhibit Thursday night. The roughly 100 people in attendance shuffled through the 36 different photos and narratives, all amazed by each piece. Students, faculty, and the general public are encouraged to see the exhibit Monday through Saturday, 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

Graduate student Katrina Gambert, a student in the master’s of counseling program, attended the opening reception with her art therapy class and was moved by a particular piece. Gambert said she almost wanted to cry after hearing a woman’s battle with bullies in grade school.

“I wanted to go talk to her,” said Gambert. “I wanted to tell her that I would sit with her and hear her story.”

This exhibit offers a fascinating look at the fine line between mental health and mental illness, and to use Nye’s own words, these stories will “knock you out.”



Paige Kerley is a junior at SMU studying journalism and minoring in law and legal reasoning.

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