Reducing Mental Health Stigma through Art


New Media Art to Facilitate Empathy

This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.


My interest in how to facilitate empathy and end stigma surrounding mental disorders, specifically in American teenagers facing depression and anxiety, was sparked after hearing my classmates at Columbus Academy talk excessively about the subject. I learned the severity of the epidemic of teen mental illness in eighth grade when two girls from my school committed suicide, causing emotional damage throughout the community. I was reminded of this idea in taking Abnormal Psychology this year, especially during our unit about depression and suicide. One of my classmates and I created an infographic about the severity of teen mental illness and I realized how these statistics really hit home for me and my community. Here is the infographic we created:

Infographic created by Eva Elton and myself

Finally, after reading a significant amount of information about stigma in different resources from my Abnormal Psychology class, talking about the meaning of the word “abnormal,” and reading about stigma in Crazy Like Us by Ethan Watters, I decided I needed to address the issue in the context of my community. The idea that the girls who committed suicide at my school could have been helped if there wasn’t so much stigma surrounding depression and other mental disorders has inspired me to attack this issue head on and help to find a solution in my community.


After identifying my users as high school students and educators of mental health I was challenged by two “how might we” (HMW) questions:

  1. How might we increase awareness and foster empathy in students learning about mental illness, without romanticizing or disrespecting those conditions being studied?
  2. How might we, as a community, engage in real world scenarios to reduce stigma and question what it means to be normal in terms of mental illness?

I then conducted two interviews to increase my awareness about mental illness and stigma from two different perspectives. This helped me focus my intention on specific issues within my community and create a model that would approach the issue of stigma from several angles. I finally narrowed down the needs of my users to several key points:

  • to engage in activities and real world scenarios that develop empathy and understanding in students
  • to reduce stigma through charity work with the mentally ill
  • to help those suffering from mental illness find the courage to admit their illness
  • to support those who seek help with mental illness
  • to raise awareness about mental illness in the community as a whole

Interview with psychologist Shekyra DeCree

  1. How can we stop homogenizing national associations and bring more diversity to the field of mental health? (Fostering cultural competence, as Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and LGBT people may have various mental health needs that relate to their backgrounds.)

More education is needed.  I believe there is a stigma in utilizing mental health resources within these groups and a misunderstanding of how getting help is actually beneficial.  We have to educate ourselves on ways to effectively promote and encourage these groups to utilize mental health resources.  I feel the stigma related to mental health continually discourages buy-in and utilization of resources available.

  1. Is medication being overused in society today? What are some different ways we can approach mental disorders, rather than through “quick fixes” and pills?

Medication use can be helpful.  It’s a case-by-case bases re: the use of psychotropic meds and who it actually benefits. There’s a need for ongoing  exploration of other well researched intervention alternatives.  Again, that will require continued education.

  1. What are the pros and cons of working as a psychologist? What is the biggest problem you face in the field?

Helping others is the greatest benefit for me.  The greatest problem I face to the continued battle of removing the stigma and providing education.  Also, there’s limited help and resources for such a large problem we face.  It literally feels like an uphill battle most days.

4. Overarching Ideas/ Opinions on:

  • Stigma at Columbus Academy:
I absolutely think there is a stigma in our school.  Although things are improving, there is still a climate where students shy aways from issues related to mental illness, and, acknowledging personal struggles with mental health. It feels like a topic/issue that’s taboo to openly discuss or address.
  • Strategies to overcome this stigma:
Hopefully, more education and openness about mental health will eliminate the stigma. I believe talking about it, debunking myths related to mental health, and empowering students to prioritize their (mental) health and wellness will help eliminate the stigma.  Students seem to respond well to other students who are open and transparent about their personal struggles with mental health and how they overcome them. It’s like addressing the monster in the closet; once addressed and confronted for what it is, it’s not as scary and intimidating.  Empathy is also cultivated by community empowerment and peer support.


Interview with student Genevieve Harding




What is New Media?

New Media is a term used to define all that is related to the internet and the interplay between technology, images and sound. It is often used to create nonlinear stories, present ideas in an all-encompassing way, and introduce creative ideas in a way that helps people form their own opinions. New media holds out a possibility of access to content anytime, anywhere, on any digital device, as well as interactive user feedback, creative participation and community formation around the media content. Another important promise of new media is the “democratization” of the creation, publishing, distribution and consumption of media content. What distinguishes new media from traditional media is the digitizing of content into bits. There is also a dynamic aspect of content production which can be done in real time and connect users with one another on a very human level. The whole idea is using a platform familiar to 21st century teens in a way that helps facilitate empathy, exchange ideas, and use interactive rhetorical strategies to talk about tough topics and make them more dynamic and engaging. Some 

Examples of New Media:

How to Create New Media: Get Inspired! You can create new media projects to raise awareness too! Whatever your idea, you can make it come to life with a few simple steps. I will be using to create an interactive project on mental health stigmatization, but this website can be used for anything! I encourage you to give it a try if there’s a message you want to convey in a unique, eye-catching way.

Which Stigmas to Focus on? There are so many stigmas surrounding mental health, it would be impossible to target them all in a broad way and still have my project be effective. It seems that the best way to have a positive and profound impact is to target a specific population or issue. I could really use your help in narrowing down my idea! You can give me your input by taking this short poll:

What mental illness do you feel has the greatest amount of stigma surrounding it and would benefit the most from this project?

Anxiety disorders
Depression/ suicide
Eating disorders

online poll creator


Now that I’ve reached this point in my research and proposed solution, it would mean so much and be so incredibly helpful if you would give me some feedback! Please keep suggestions constructive and positive by using phrasing such as “What if….? How might we….? I wonder…..?” to provide feedback. The future of my project consists of talking to school administrators to get permission to ask students for artwork and contributions to my new media piece. I will also have to get permission to put my new media piece in the art gallery at my school, but I am already organizing this. My goal in creating this project is to connect with people in my community, specifically students and the school counselor, on a personal level and gain insight into the issues I’m addressing. Before releasing my project, I hope to give an announcement about it during my school’s weekly assembly, sending out a public email, and maybe getting my new media piece published to my school’s online newsletter. If you’d like to contribute or get involved in my project, I would love to receive artwork, creative writing, or personal stories about your journey with mental illness from all of you! My goal is to show as many perspectives as possible and you can make this happen by sharing your stories with me and my community. Thank you!


“Defining ‘Normal’ and ‘Abnormal.’” Boundless, Creative Commons, 17 Oct. 2013, Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.

Holahan, William, and Mary Yadusky-Holahan. “The Effect of Academic Stress upon the Anxiety and Depression Levels of Gifted High School Students.” Sage Journals, National Association for Gifted Children, 1 Jan. 1983, Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.

Novotney, Amy. “Students Under Pressure.” American Psychological Association, APA, Sept. 2014, Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.

Ossola, Alexandra. “High-Stress High School.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Monthly Group, 9 Oct. 2015,  m/education/archive/2015/10/high-stress-high-school/409735/. Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.

Socha, Bailey, and Barbara Eber-Schmid. “Defining New Media Isn’t Easy.” New Media Institute, 2014, Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.

Watters, Ethan. Crazy like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche. New York, Free Press, 2010.

Human Resources:

Shekyra DeCree Counselor

The Ohio State University – B.A. University of Dayton – M.S.Ed.


Genevieve Harding Student at Interlochen Center for the Arts

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