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Patient photographs ketamine treatment

Rob Valenti debuts Patient Six exhibition at Symposium.

A person presenting from a lectern.
SydneyConnect Image: Professor Nick Glozier speaking at the Sydney Innovation and Research Symposium

A new anti-depressant treatment has changed Rob Valenti's life.

"It's almost been a complete 180 in my life. Things have been looking a lot better than they have than in the past 10 years.

"I can get out of bed every day and shower. Before it was a struggle to do anything like that. It was a struggle to get out of the house. All of that has changed now," he said.

With existing medications proving ineffective, Rob was referred to RPA's Ketamine Treatment Clinic — the first of its kind in the public health system in Australia.

During the Clinic's eight-week program, Rob has received esketamine nasal spray, an anti-depressant that contains a constituent of ketamine. It's administered by a clinician twice a week.

It's the first new anti-depressant drug of a novel mechanism in 30 years to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and can be prescribed to people with treatment-resistant major depression who have not responded to at least two other anti-depressant medications.

Rob's among the first in the country to receive the treatment, under an early access scheme where the cost of the drug, sold under the name Spravato, is covered by its manufacturer.

"It just kind of changes the way that you think about things, the way that you process what's going on in your head — all the negativity. It's helped me re-evaluate how I look at things, how I perceive things and how I act or react to them," he said.

As an emerging Sydney photographer, Rob has documented his journey in a photo essay to raise awareness about mental health, the Clinic and the treatment it provides.

"It's a way to show people that there's no shame in having a mental illness. And, that there are new treatments that are helping people who have had issues in the past with medications not helping them," he said.

The photo essay, shot on black and white film is called Patient Six — as Rob is the sixth person to receive the treatment at the RPA clinic — and was shown at the Sydney Innovation and Research Symposium during the District's Innovation Week.

"I really admire his courage to tell his story because it's a very personal one. They say a photographs capture a thousand words. But it's more than that. There's life in his photographs and there's emotion," Nicollette Thornton, the Clinic's Coordinator, said.

"There's only so much a clinician can describe in words to a patient, but other patients will be able to see what the experience is like. This is from a lived experience perspective."

Rob shared details about his treatment experience and his photo essay during a keynote presentation from Professor Nick Glozier, Professor of Psychological Medicine, focussed on next generation psychiatric treatment.

"It's improved his motivation, it's improved his energy. What Rob is doing with the photo essay is really showing us and helping us work out how we do things better," Professor Glozier said.

For Rob, it's also been about helping others in a similar position to him.

"If it just gives one person hope, at the end of the day, that's what really counts for me," he said.

To view a gallery of Rob's photographs, please click here.