For Samantha Motley, owner of Motley Mae Photography in Muscatine, mental health matters. As someone with an anxiety disorder, she knows firsthand the importance of treating mental health conditions and the stigma that can surround mental illness. As she explained it, “I think there are people who don’t understand the stigma and people who don’t get the help they need and do regrettable things . . . [so] it’s important to be able to ask for help.”
This spring and summer, Motley knew she wanted to do something to raise awareness about mental health. A professional photographer, she decided to organize a photo shoot both to illustrate people’s perceptions of mental health and illness, and to raise money for the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). With the help of Muscatine residents from all walks of life, Motley created a striking body of work, and raised $1,100 for NAMI.
When Motley first organized the photo shoot and fundraiser, she wanted it to showcase many local perspectives on mental health and mental illness. “I wanted to [illustrate] how people interpret mental illness, whether they have it or whether they want to show people they support and understand [people who do],” she shared. From there, she created a self-portrait on mental health, posted it online, and invited people to come do shoots of their own. Requests for photo shoots poured in, and over thirty people signed up to have their photos taken.
Along with the awareness component of the shoot, Motley also wanted to use it to help raise money for NAMI, a group that supports mental health awareness and care in the Quad Cities that would like to expand to Muscatine County soon. She elaborated, “I did research on organizations online near Muscatine. . .. My sister also brought up that NAMI wants to start a chapter here, so I decided I wanted to help them do that.” When Motley started sharing information about the shoot online, she requested people who signed up for a sitting make a voluntary donation of around $40, or whatever they felt they could afford to give. The community gave generously, with some participants donating $100 for their photo shoot. Overall, Motley felt extremely pleased to raise $1,100 for NAMI, a much greater sum than she expected.
With the mental health awareness photo shoot series complete, Motley feels glad that she found a creative way to get her message about the importance of mental health and the need to break down the taboos surrounding it. “I enjoyed helping people decide how they would represent mental health,” she added.
Through this meaningful and original project, Motley helped rally the community around an important issue that touches everyone’s life in some way. She also provided valuable financial support to an organization that will soon start making a difference in the wellbeing of people throughout Muscatine. Through both these actions, Motley brought mental health into focus and helped change our community for the better.