It’s been over a week since I talked with Stephanie Prechter. Like many of us this fall season, I’ve been sick. Luckily for me, Stephanie is a warm, charismatic individual with amazing stories, so I remember our interview clearly. And now, feeling better, I am so excited to finally be able to share her story.
Stephanie Prechter has experience working in the mental health field, involved with research and outreach at the University of Michigan Depression Center. This center and Stephanie have a relationship that goes way back to her early adult years. As Stephanie began seeking treatment during her first episode of depression, her parents wondered, “Why aren’t there depression centers, the way there are centers for other illnesses?” The University of Michigan Depression Center is the answer to that question.
Stephanie spent time with the Depression Center working with a range of different populations, including high school students and retired NFL athletes. As an artist, Stephanie has shared story and image through photography, and has shared the power of this medium with patients at the University of Michigan Cancer Center and with students at Wayne State University.
As we spoke, Stephanie told me a lot about her father, who was diagnosed with what was referred to at the time as manic depression. For many reasons, treatment has not always been as accessible as it is now, and he did not receive the treatment he needed early on. Stephanie’s family suffered the loss of her father to a severe depressive episode in 2001.
Resilience is something Stephanie talks a lot about. It’s her favorite concept. This past summer, Stephanie featured her photography in an exhibit she co-chairs called “Images of Resilience”. To me, Stephanie’s family is the perfect image of resilience. To take a personal, devastating loss and transform it into something that will benefit so many people⸺ that is beyond resilient. Thanks to Stephanie’s family, The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program works to further our understanding of Bipolar Disorder, and to provide new methods of treatment. It exists to ensure a future where “a healthy and fulfilled life” and “bipolar disorder” are not mutually exclusive terms.
Stephanie’s work in the mental health field is amazing and inspiring. Yet, I want to make sure I spend just as much time focusing on Stephanie as an artist. You can tell Stephanie is a photographer even by the way she speaks. She casts images that stay in your mind long after the conversation has ended.
Something that has stuck with me is the way Stephanie talks about photography. I think for a lot of us, receiving a diagnosis is gaining a new understanding of our identity. It is something with which peace needs to be made before healing can begin.
Above: Stephanie’s photograph titled “new beginnings”, one of the pieces of her Great Lakes Project capturing lighthouses.
Diagnosed with Bipolar in early adulthood, Stephanie explains both photography and Bipolar as understanding the give and take between shadows and light. Perspective is important in photography, and also in our mindset. The way Stephanie has chosen to focus her camera lens and her brain really have inspired me.
Even though Stephanie remains behind the camera, you can truly see her in all her photographs. The way she captures the world is unique to her. As a Michigan resident, a lot of her work is focused on the Great Lakes. To Stephanie, the Great Lakes are more than just water. They are large, moving bodies, each connected to one another. The idea of remaining connected to each other and our resources is incredibly important to Stephanie.
Above: Stephanie’s photograph titled “radiant rush of energy”, also part of the Great Lakes Project. This piece is part of the phase of the project focused on community and advocacy.
Stephanie’s photographs are beyond breathtaking. I cannot overemphasize how urgent it is for you to visit her website and experience it firsthand. Stephanie is amazing, and unfortunately I can’t fit everything into one blog post. To hear more of her story, check out her presentation during our 2016 Storyteller’s Event, available on PeaceLove’s YouTube channel.