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‘FACEing Mental Illness’ volunteers look to next steps

By Barbara Peters Smith | Posted Sep 6, 2017 at 9:00 PM

As a yearlong project leveraging journalism and artwork to give people with mental illness a voice in this community — along with a face and a name — is nearing its close, participants met Wednesday to discuss how those voices can continue to be heard.

“FACEing Mental Illness: The Art of Acceptance” was the work of Herald-Tribune staff writer Carrie Seidman, supported by a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. The project had two components: free monthly art workshops where local residents with mental illness could create self-portraits, and a series of profiles in the Herald-Tribune where they could tell their stories openly. Since November 2016 more than 40 profiles have been published, and 71 artists created works that were part of a local exhibition, a new book and a website, facingmentalillness.heraldtribune.com.

At the meeting, Seidman said the art exhibit at Selby Library was seen by an estimated 10,000 visitors. More than 85 volunteers helped with the project, and more than 150 members became part of an ongoing Facebook group. The residents featured in the weekly profiles, she added, have ranged in age from 10 to 86.

Marcia Treiger was one of them. She decided to participate, she told the group, after a neighbor brought her a copy of the Sunday Herald-Tribune.

“I didn’t know that such a thing existed,” Treiger said. “My entire life, I kept my illness a secret. I had never revealed that I was bipolar. This has helped me in so many ways to realize the fact that I have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Artist Amy Sell said she comes from a “meat and potatoes family” that considered art and mental illness “weird.” Now, she told the audience, “I don’t feel weird. It was good to see my family wanting to go to an art show.”

Pat Mahoney, president of the Sarasota County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said that the public events staged by FACEing Mental Illness resulted in increased phone calls and inquiries to her organization. She was especially impressed by the art opening.

“What a joyous occasion it was,” she said. “Mental illness is often not associated with something joyous.”

Joan Geyer, a co-founder of Vincent Academy, which opened in June to guide recovering mental health patients through their re-entry into society, extended appreciation “most of all to the people who were so brave to step out and put their face in the newspaper.”

“Once you’re in the newspaper, it’s hard to take back,” she noted. “I hope our community is a big enough community that we will continue to support you.”

The original news article can be found here.

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