Brave Faces – Event Celebrates Mental Health Paths, Recoveries

It’s a strange and unnerving thing to be told you have a talent that you never worked for, that you never asked for, and that seemed to appear out of thin air, with as much reason for being as one of those potatoes that resemble Mother Teresa.

This is what writing has been to me.  It’s a talent I want to use to help people, but its existence seems flimsy. At any moment, I expect it will disappear, like a thin fog in the hot sun, and it’s a fear that can be paralyzing.

When I was in graduate school at the University of Oregon, I was determined to write stories about people on the margins who lacked a voice in our public discourse.

While I was preparing a story about Portland’s permanent tent city for the homeless, Dignity Village, I lost a book of full of notes vital to the writing.

At Wednesday's Brave Faces event, Redding resident Susan Guiton will share the story of how her family found laughter and healing after her 19-year-old nephew's shocking death by suicide 11 years ago.

Distraught and disgusted, I spent the night guzzling whiskey by myself at the local bar. That night at home, I took out a bottle of sleeping pills I had acquired from a friend,  counted out 100 of them and spread them across my desk.

I was convinced that I was unworthy and incapable of reaching my potential. I felt I had let down the struggling Dignity Village residents, who had trusted me with their stories in hope the telling could make their lives better. I was ready to just be done with it, and I swallowed two or three pills before coming to my senses.

This was not an isolated incident. For much of my adult life, I have periodically faced bouts of depression and thoughts of ending my life.

This is the first time I have ever publicly shared these struggles. I am still ashamed of them. I come from a privileged background. I have loving and supportive family and friends. I have always felt feelings of unhappiness were my own weakness.

Yet for some reason, it’s easier to write about this to strangers than to tell a dear friend about it face-to-face.

That is why I am constantly humbled by the courage and strength of local Shasta County residents who have decided to participate in the Brave Faces Portrait Gallery.

The gallery combines photographic portraits with oral histories I conducted with the Brave Faces about their long, perilous and uplifting journeys through suicide and mental illness to find recovery and wellness.

A project of Health and Human Services and funded by the Mental Health Services Act, the gallery is part of our Stand Against Stigma campaign, which strives to end discrimination and myths about mental illness and suicide.

But I believe it is more than just a campaign. The Brave Faces Gallery is a call to action, a movement to end artificial divisions that exist in our community and cause unnecessary pain and suffering.

Every year, one in four people struggle with a mental illness and about 40 people in Shasta County will die by suicide, the ripple effects emotionally traumatizing hundreds more family members and loved ones.

It’s staggering that such common afflictions are so thickly veiled in shame and fear that they’re rarely discussed, often hidden for years. I know I have always felt it necessary to hide my own.

Unlike diabetes or cancer, a mental health diagnosis can overwhelm the rest of the person’s character in our eyes, the stigma can blind us to the contributions they make and the beauty in their hearts.  Many of the Brave Faces have spoken about denial, that many people are in denial about their mental illnesses because of the stigma  associated with them.  And it can be the biggest hurdle they face to seeking the help they need.

It’s time to stop viewing people with mental health challenges as “others,” as people not of our communities and families. The numbers say they are us and we are them.

You can join our movement to end the stigma at our Brave Faces Portrait Gallery launch today from 6-8:30 p.m.  inside the Downtown Atrium, 1670 Market St., where five Brave Faces will share their stories and messages of hope.  The festivities will start  with an open gallery showing of all the portraits from 6 to 7 p.m.  From 7-8:30, you will hear from Iris, Kimberly, Steve and others, people who you will find are remarkably like you or people you know.

I have listened to them practice their speeches, and it is both shocking and inspiring to hear them openly discuss their struggles. They will share things that many people have never heard discussed so honestly, intimately and eloquently.

Through the Brave Faces I have discovered an undeniable truth: the isolation and harsh judgments people face because of their diagnoses can be worse than the illnesses.

It’s time that we help our friends and loved ones who are struggling come out of the shadows. It’s time that we all help each other heal.

Visit standagainststigma.com or contact me at mdadigan@co.shasta.ca.us or 225-5970 for more information.

Marc Dadigan is a Community Education Specialist for Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, for which he works on the Stand Against Stigma campaign to end the stigma often associated with mental illness and suicide. He is also a freelance multimedia journalist whose writing and photographs have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, California Watch, Indian Country Today and many other publications.

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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Iris says:

    Marc,

    You kindness, support, and open heart have made it possible for me to share my own struggle. Thank you for sharing yours. As we drop our small stones into the pond the ripple effect touches the whole community.

  2. Avatar Virginia Phelps says:

    Courage can be contagious. Thank you Marc. Iris I will see you tonight. Virginia

  3. Avatar Sherri Batie says:

    A wonderful story! Iris, it is an honor to know you! I wish I could attend tonight's event. I wish all of you a great time tonight! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  4. Oh Iris,

    And Marc,

    Wish I could be there. Nothing will end stigma more than being portrayed as more than just our labels. You know the more people see that those with diagnostic labels can be just as successful as anyone else the more the myths of MI will be lost.

    I hope the individuals in Brave Faces all include their successes in life and not just focus on how they are overcoming Mental changes.

    I may have a psychiatric label but there is more to me than that. I just happen to be a successful carpenter that has installed ceilings all over the state. Pointing at the ceiling on the top floor in the Stork Tower on UCSB campus as one of them, will for ever change how people view me and any one with a psychiatric label.

  5. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    This is an extraordinary article. Thank you Marc. Would that I could attend!

  6. Avatar AJ says:

    We ALL have mental health problems. . . every last one of us. For some it may be a socially acceptable aberration; for others it may be so minimal that one has developed coping mechanisms that mask the symptoms. Others are not so fortunate an deal with an in-your-face set of symptoms tht deman our attention. Whatever it is, we all need to work toward tolerance . . . not only for those around us, but also for ourselves.

    • Avatar Canda says:

      Beautifully said, AJ. I wholeheartedly agree! This is a wonderful, well-written, and important story told by a very courageous man. Thank you for sharing your struggles with us, Marc.

  7. Avatar Barb B says:

    Marc: Thank you for sharing your story and the Brave Faces event was fantastic! It was very sobering and heartwarming to see and hear the struggles and successes of our Brave Faces. I hope everyone finds their way to a wonderful life with family and friends to support and love them. Barb

  8. From the beginning of the Brave Faces Portrait Gallery project (started nearly 18 months ago!) I've been amazed at the depth of compassion and drive to lead a fulfilling life among the courageous people who volunteered to be the subjects. I've been filled with moments of elation, followed by moments of terror. Can we do this important project justice? I knew Marc was committed to its success and had the qualities necessary to pull it off. Thank you for your courage and compassion, Marc. You, too, have earned the title "Brave Face."

  9. Some great words in this this thread: "extraordinary," "tolerance" and "courageous."

    Hear, HEAR!, AJ: We ALL have issues!

    Even Mental Health, LE and Family Court/CPS professionals have unassisted Mental Health issues…

    Perhaps… this "Brave Faces" project may be a safe movement for all sworn and highly paid to serve the mental health and justice needs of our children and citizens, to seek help and support for themselves in truly fulfilling their charges…

    Great story and movement, Marc – in light of your other most meaningful projects that support the marginalized (too often ignored often due to lazy or rationalized inconveniences), I would like to hook you up someday with an old friend, colleague and bandmate, Gus Van Sant… We worked together in Portland for years… If you are at all familiar with Gus' filmography and true moral compass, you may note that his collective works BRAVELY serve the marginalized. Let me know, man!

    Alan

  10. Avatar Robert Hovey says:

    This is a wonderful thing, it is a shame that all too often mental illness, whether real of made up is used against good parents to take their children from them in our broken family court system. mediators are acting as though they can diagnose mental illness and they make recommendations to the court that disfavored parents should have pschychiatric evaluations before being allowed to see their children when they are not qulified to make such judgements. If the parent agrees to the evaluation the results are skewed to show falsely and used to take the children away for good.