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Amber Osterhout’s Artwork Combats Mental Illness Stigma

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Dr. Dombeck received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 1995 ...Read More

Mental illnesses affect more than just those people who “have” them. Affected too are family members, friends and co-workers; those people who live with patients or care for them or work with them; those people who have a relationship with mentally ill persons in some fashion; who love them and who suffer with them as they suffer. Particularly when the mental illness in question is disabling and severe, family members and friends frequently become care-givers and advocates and do what they can to help their loved ones to make their way. It’s a hard and emotionally taxing job sometimes as patients do not always want to cooperate with those who want to help them. Patient family members who are psychotic, for instance, do not always want to take prescribed medications or maintain personal hygiene or even to remain living in the safe confines of a family home. As well, access to necessary medical and psychosocial resources is increasingly limited. In America, unless you are rich and can afford to pay fairly large sums out of pocket, locating quality care for disabled family members is quite the trick. Family members and friends who take up a care-giving or advocacy role can easily become frustrated by the demands of their chosen task, by the barriers to effective care that society presents, and by the feeling of relative helplessness that can accompany the caregiving task.

While the care-giving and advocacy role can be challenging, it can also become a way that family members and friends can become energized to try to effect change. I was recently contacted by Amber Osterhout, a New York state based graphic artist, and the sister of a young man diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Amber has learned first hand about the difficulties of trying to help her brother stay well cared for, and as well has had a crash course concerning the various forms of prejudice and stigma that continue to be associated with mental illnesses like Schizophrenia in the popular imagination. One of Amber’s responses to this stigma has been to use her artistic talents to create an anti-stigma educational campaign. To this effect, she has created paintings and posters which attempt (I think quite successfully) to illustrate her brother’s experience of Schizophrenia; the voices and the delusions he experiences. I have reproduced a few examples here; there are more to see at Amber’s website www.gaining-insight.com and on her blog gaining-insight.blogspot.com, both of which which I hope everyone reading here will take a few moments to visit.

Amber’s idea is to create a multimedia presentation that can be offered to high schools and colleges to help educate students on this important subject. I hope that those of you who are in a position to do educational work will be able to benefit from the materials Amber has and will be creating, and that Amber will be able to benefit from what I hope will be warm support for her efforts.

Updated April 15, 2009

We received an email from Amber today letting us know that her prints and posters are now available on her website. She reminded us that 75% of all print sales will be donated to various mental health charities. You can check those out at Gaining Insight

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