The caged humans: Heartbreaking photos show mentally ill people who are locked away by their families

For the past 10 years, photographer Xiang Xinping has been using photography to illustrate his experience with mentally ill people, referring to it as a form of "documentary photography".

©Xiang Xinping

In an interview with Global Photography, Xiang explained that the series aims to provide an intimate look into the life of people suffering from mental illness, as well as their parents who accompanied them.

His motivation is simple. "I came to know these people by chance" he said. "The way to approach the subject is to be sincere about it, not judgmental... These topics are hidden, underreported on or bordering on the taboo. But these are stories that need to be seen and need to be told."

©Xiang Xinping

©Xiang Xinping

The provocative nature of the photographs—ranging from the miserable living conditions to the unclothed and bruised—may elicit shock and discomfort in viewers.

©Xiang Xinping

©Xiang Xinping

Once he came to a family where the tiled floors were smeared with faeces and urine and there are no windows for ventilation. The locked person spent most of his days sitting in his own bodily filth, behind a metal door that is padlocked shut.

©Xiang Xinping

They are locked in cages or chains by their families who cannot afford to treat their illness. For many families with members who suffer from mental illness, access to treatment is difficult. Besides, fear of what the sick people may do leaves the family with no choice but to keep them locked in a room.

That's the reason why Xiang wants to explore more and try to help them because he feels shocked and feel bad with the situation, how our society neglects these people and leaves them in the community without treatment.

Then Xiang sent these photos to the local government, which then attached great attention to this social issue. In the first place, the government allocated special funds and issued a policy to help those patients who had been locked away for a long time. They were taken to hospital for free treatment.

©Xiang Xinping

In 2018, when Xiang visited them again at the hospital, some mentally ill people had been treated and recovered. Others were allowed to stay for further treatment.

©Xiang Xinping

©Xiang Xinping

"I felt a sense of accomplishment, when I saw the positive changes happened to these people. And also I hope there will be no discrimination between people with mental illnesses and people with physical illnesses, that they have the same rights and same services from the government."


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