Brave Face: Unmasking the Silence of Mental Illness

By: Shruti Rajan, Outreach Coordinator

Even though we have recently made strides to demystify and learn how to speak aloud about diseases such as HIV/AIDS, HPV, and breast cancer, we still elude an open dialogue when it comes to mental health conditions.

When a mental illness succeeds in taking the life of someone we love or value, we are left wondering how that could have happened. The reality remains that we are often fooled by masks that individuals wear to conceal the struggles that they might actually be facing. When worn right, masks that we wear can excel at convincing others that we are putting on a brave face.

However, while masks are typically viewed as a way to disguise or hide your face or your self, historically they have also been a way to express the conceptual, the spirit, or things unseen. Therefore, in an effort to display what need not be hidden, NAMI Dane County partnered with the Bigs and Littles of Big Brothers and Big Sisters to display an artistic expression of the silence and the stigma surrounding mental illness.

The kids at the event were each involved with creating a plaster mask, molded from their own face. Throughout the course of the two day event they were given the chance to engage in conversations about mental health as well as learn about ways to eradicate the silence that envelops mental illness in their own schools and homes. Confronting the reasons that stop individuals from speaking up about their own struggles helped bring the Bigs and Littles together. Moreover, it provided a good place for the youth to start the conversation about mental illness.

This event could not have happened without the help and the devotion of a NAMI volunteer, Emily Hutcheson. The “Brave Face” project was part of her own journey to confront the reasons we do not speak up. It was a way to make sure that the Bigs and the Littles at the event knew that they were not alone. Through this event, she helped create an environment for the participants that was welcoming and caring.

As for the masks, they were recently displayed at NAMI Dane County’s Awards Banquet and Gala, with the theme Empowering Youth to Change the Conversation About Mental Illness. The next steps for The “Brave Face” project would be to offer this event to high schools and give them the opportunity to explore how good it feels to create and display their true feelings in a beautiful and empowering way!

Take a look at some of the beautiful masks that come from The Brave Face project: