Breaking Barriers Through Art

There are plenty of stereotypes attached to those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness: That they’re crazy, weird, dark or dysfunctional.

But the mental health community has been working to erase that stigma by educating the public and supporting individuals with mental illness.

“Mental illness is no different than being diagnosed with a heart condition or diabetes,” said Karen Roland, a program coordinator for Mental Health Services at Bell Socialization Services Inc. “Just because we might be diagnosed with whatever it is, doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy life.”

In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five Americans will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime – and every American is impacted through family and friends.

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month – held every May to raise awareness about the prevalence and impact of mental illness in the U.S. – Bell Socialization sponsors an annual art show.

There are about 100 pieces ranging from paintings and drawings to photography, poetry and prose, by  artists in York and Adams counties who live with mental illness.

Shows have been held in a pop-up gallery in a vacant storefront on West Market Street,  Marketview Arts, York College Galleries, an empty storefront at the York Galleria, and the downtown Salvation Army.

“It’s always good for any individual – mental illness or not – to express themselves,” said Roland. “It’s very empowering to the artists.”

The pieces are judged by other artists in the community – who award the entries first through fourth-place ribbons in about nine categories. Roland said the response from the community was positive – some visitors are often interested in purchasing pieces from the show.

The hope is by spreading the word about what mental illness is and isn’t, that a dialogue can be started.  Bell staff strives to give hope to individuals and reinforce that, provided they get the right treatment, they can get on the road to recovery and live a happy, productive life.

“Most people we encounter are open to hear what we have to say. The stigma is coming down,” Roland said.

Learn more about the services and programs available to individuals living with mental illness through Bell’s mental health programs .  Learn more about National Mental Health Awareness Month and how you can live #StigmaFree at