What do a wildlife advocate, musician, fitness instructor, actor, athlete, and artist have in common? All have been affected by mental illness and its stigma, and all are brought together in a beautiful and compelling new photographic exhibit that debuted on Thursday, May 20, 2021, at Burlington International Airport (BTV) in Burlington, Vermont.
The exhibit is part of an international public awareness campaign sponsored by the Boston area’s McLean Hospital, in collaboration with BTV and several mental health advocacy groups, to change the way mental illness is perceived.
Deconstructing Stigma: Changing Attitudes About Mental Health features compelling portraits of courageous people who have shared their stories with the hope of changing how people with psychiatric illness are viewed.
“Shame and stigma are still far too prevalent when it comes to psychiatric disease and can contribute to the fear and isolation many people feel. Deconstructing Stigma is an unprecedented effort to spark conversation about behavioral and mental health,” said Scott L. Rauch, MD, president and psychiatrist in chief of McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School.
Connecting Through Stories
Vermont native Lise, whose story is shared at BTV, openly talks about her family history of mental illness as well as her own experience living with bipolar disorder. Although she was always told to keep mental illness in the family a secret, Lise now recognizes that there is no shame in living with a mental illness.
“My father swore us to secrecy about my sister’s schizophrenia diagnosis. Later, my father died by suicide,” explained Lise. “The resulting toxic shame from in and outside of my family impacted my development and played a part in sabotaging my chance for a happy and well-adjusted childhood and teen years. Without stigma, much of what happened would have been easier to bear.”
Lise, like so many of the more than 200 volunteers in the Deconstructing Stigma campaign from around the world, have stepped forward to share their stories because they want other people to know they are not alone and to recognize that living with a mental illness is not something to be ashamed of.