New Photo Exhibit Shows "99 Faces" Of People With Mental Illness

By Kelly Burch 04/04/19

"We have champions in all walks of life. I was like, where are the champions of schizophrenia and bipolar?” said the exhibit's creator.

woman looking at new photo exhibit

An art exhibit in New Hampshire is aiming to break down the stigma around mental illness by displaying 99 life-sized portraits of people who have been touched by mental illness—33 with bipolar disorder, 33 with schizophrenia, and 33 family members.

The photographs, part of an exhibit called “99 Faces,” were taken by Boston-based artist Lynda Michaud Cutrell, according to The Valley News. They are on display at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire’s largest hospital, from April to September.

Cutrell wanted to give people with mental illness a chance to advocate for themselves and their loved ones. 

"We have champions in all walks of life,” she said. “I was like, where are the champions of schizophrenia and bipolar?”

Cutrell said that people who see the person behind a diagnosis are more likely to support that person, and less likely to ostracize or “other” them. When attitudes toward mental illness change, “it’s usually because you meet a person,” she said. 

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center provides psychiatric services and hosts support groups for people with mental illness and their family members. Marianne Barthel, arts program director at the hospital, said that the exhibit can give hope to patients and to the people who come to the hospital for support groups related to mental illness. 

“It was really in an effort to de-stigmatize mental health and help give inspiration to those living with mental illness that there are others out there like them who are living successful lives with jobs and families,” Barthel told NHPR. “It really breaks down barriers when you can have a discussion about a serious or personal issue by looking at art.” 

Dartmouth’s Director of Psychiatry, Alan Green, had similar thoughts. “We hope this exhibit will help people understand (that). As a society, we need to realize that this is part of our responsibility,” he said. 

Cutrell was inspired by a family member who is grappling with mental illness. She connected with many of the portraits’ subjects through the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

“Once I found one family member, I realized there were other family members,” she said. 

Most people she spoke to were excited to be involved with the project. 

She said, “I think how open people became when I gave them this space to be part of something important. It was kind of like a new social value.”

In addition to highlighting her subjects with mental illness, the exhibit makes a nod to the genetic components of the diseases by displaying an artistic representation of a DNA strand from a person with schizophrenia. 

“Whoever it would be, there are some genes that contribute,” Cutrell said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.