Art Show Pairs Writers and Artists to Reduce Stigma

“Can someone who hears voices, struggles with self-abuse, has major depression and insomnia, and takes multiple medications be a functioning member of society? I say, ‘Yes’ and I’m living proof.”

The aforementioned words are from speaker Laura Bemis, who has been a member of the Stop Stigma Sacramento Speakers Bureau since its beginnings in 2012. The Speakers Bureau is part of a larger multimedia project known as the “Mental Illness: It’s not always what you think” project, which aims to reduce the stigma and discrimination that families and individuals living with mental illness often face.

While in the car, returning from an international stigma reduction conference in San Francisco, Bemis and two additional Stop Stigma Sacramento Speakers Bureau members, Aunjuli Reese and Pangcha Vang, began brainstorming a unique event. The concept was to invite people living with mental illness to write and submit their written story of hope and recovery. In turn, local artists would receive the story, create an interpretation through art, and the collaborative pieces would be displayed at an unveiling event. Bemis had heard about a similar event on the East Coast and was inspired to replicate it in Sacramento to raise awareness about mental health and give others insight, inspiration, hope and connection.

The initial brainstorm and many months of planning resulted in “Journey of Hope: Real Life Stories of Living with Mental Health Challenges Portrayed Through Art”. Twenty-seven individuals, including the organizers, submitted works for the event, creating 19 collaborative pieces for viewing and over 140 people attended the event.

When asked about something special or unexpected about the event, writer and organizer Aunjuli Reese described an instance where she observed a mother and her young daughter having a conversation about bipolar disorder near the artwork that accompanied Reese’s story.

Reese recounts, “I was listening in as the young daughter shared about how ‘having bipolar means you are bad’ and I continued to listen as the mother very gently corrected her daughter’s misinformation and compared mental illness to other health issues that can be treated. Hearing that was the best part of the event for me because she just broke the stigma right there.”

Reese also added that the event came out of a desire to “do more” to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness. “We wanted to do something outside the normal confines of the Speakers Bureau. I have talked with other members of the Speakers Bureau and we believe that the Speakers Bureau can be so much more than just speaking to an audience. If we want our efforts to ripple outward, we all need to work to do something beyond ourselves. This event was an example of that.”

The three organizers are making plans for a second event. “We had no idea what the interest and participation was going to be,” said Laura Bemis. “We’ve already received a large number of requests to do this again and people have already signed up for next year’s event.”

Of note is that one of this year’s writers, who learned about the event through an email, flew from San Diego to be physically present. The writer, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “We don’t have anything like this in my area, and I wanted to be part of it.”

If you would like more information or would like to receive emails about the next event, email: For more information about the “Mental Illness: It’s not always what you think” project, visit:

This program is funded by the Division of Behavioral Health Services through the voter approved Proposition 63, Mental Health Services Act (MHSA).

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