Originally published in Painted Brain website:

“We who struggle with these disorders can lead full, happy, productive lives if we have the right resources.”

So said Elyn Saks, schizophrenia survivor, author, mental health advocate, MacArthur Fellow, and Law Professor at the USC Gould School of Law.

Holistic Mental Health Defined

According to the World Health Organization and the National Institute of Mental Health, access to the social determinants of health are far more important to mental health than access to health care alone. These social determinants include:

  1. affordable housing,
  2. reasonable access to educational opportunities
  3. reasonable access to job opportunities
  4. community inclusion — a feeling of acceptance within a larger peer group or community.

As crucial as quality mental health care is to recovery and daily management of symptoms, without these in place. what is otherwise high-quality mental health care will only go so far.

First, there is the social stigma.

Battling a mental illness is a challenge in itself. Then there is added social stigma, which in Psychology Today was defined as “characterized by prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards individuals with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given.

Then there is self-stigma

This is the most dangerous force in a person’s mental health recovery.

“Self-stigma causes the sufferer to consciously or subconsciously perceive themselves, or their illness in the prejudiced way society does.” This leads to loss of self-confidence, low-self esteem, poor self-efficacy, and self-isolation.

~Why Self-Stigma is the Most Dangerous Pitfall when Battling Mental Illness

Worst of all, it prevents the sufferer from seeking treatment or reaching out to others. It is not all too different (not to use an extreme example) in some ways to forced solitary confinement in prisons. In this case, it is self-imposed. It is common knowledge that extended social isolation can deteriorate a person’s mental health, even among those who do not have a diagnosis of mental illness.


The Vicious Cycle – Denial, Isolation, Loss


Too often, psychiatric hospitals, inpatient or outpatient clinics, assisted-living facilities, and many, many treatment centers meant to address problems like depression and suicide  fail to take into account the wider, social forces affecting a person’s mental health. Isolation is one of them.


Isolation is often a result of the brutal combination that comes out of the very distressing nature of mental illness itself with the added “lash” of self-stigma.


Isolation is the most pressing issue in young adults’ mental health.


People with mental illness have a harder time finding good jobs or safe housing. Out of almost 1500 respondents to one survey, HALF of them stated they would not socialize, work with, or have a family member marry someone with a mental illness.


A person who has just been discharged from a psychiatric hospital or released from the streets or jail needs more than a roof over their head. Meaningful activities, meaningful inclusion, and acceptance within a peer group or community, decent opportunities to get education and training; these are every bit as important as quality health care; and too often absent. Absent a path to reintegration, relapses become too common.


Self-stigma, social stigma, and isolation become a vicious cycle.

Meanwhile, the chances for jail recidivism, repeat hospitalizations, suicides, and the economic plus human toll of depression (on the individual and their families) only continues to mount, not decrease. Despite the rising numbers of people taking antidepressants and more attention given to mental health prevention, the core problem remains unsolved.

“Mental Illness is a Social Problem.

Art Brings People Together.

Change Begins with Simple Ideas.”

~Dave Leon, Founder and Executive Director, Painted Brain

The idea of infusing art, skills training, and peer-led art projects into mental health is for many in the mental health care profession, new unchartered territory, and that is about to change.

In fact, it is already changing. Art serves as an excellent addition, a compliment, to standard treatment programs. Art is being increasingly recognized (through academic studies and healthcare institutions) as a universal form of expression that can heal. Art is also a catalyst that brings people together, and art is a glue that builds community.

“There’s a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life….We who struggle with these disorders can lead full, happy, productive lives if we have the right resources.” ~ Elyn Saks.


Great Triumphs are 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration

Getting a nonprofit off the ground is both exciting & daunting. Our vision is to create a radically inclusive community center, a fertile ground for visionary artists, writers, & talented techies. The fundraising alone can be challenging. Add to that the fact that Painted Brain is currently without a home. We’re literally in “limbo”.

Take our staff cartoonist Larry. He’s been there with us from day ONE. We wouldn’t be the same without so many his many valuable artistic contributions. Larry’s biggest struggle is his 2 hour commute to PB, now made even more challenging by the fact that we don’t have our own space . In many ways Larry’s struggles reflect our own. If you donate $100 on, it will help ease his transportation for a month to join in our meet ups & continue to contribute his amazing art.

Jane is a talented poet, writer, & peer leader who has been running weekly poetry groups & played a key role in the creation of our soon to be released digital magazine. She also is faced with a long commute, which has placed our weekly poetry group on hold.

In dark times, what we need most is hope. Poets, dreamers, artists, & writers provide that necessary hope that science and technology alone cannot. The mental health profession & community needs hope today. Too often we see grim stats where right now we need more stories of recovery, reintegration, & resilience.

We envision a place untethered by stigma & exclusion, & instead – radically inclusive. Our center will provide “THAT” SPACE where visionary poets & techies can come together. We will revolutionize mental health by creating lasting community-based solutions to mental health challenges & the effects of social injustice through arts, advocacy, & enterprise. If you support mental health and our cause, it’s not the amount donated that matters. A $10 donation is a vote of confidence in our mission, and it gives us at Painted Brain hope. A large donation is just a bonus, and in our book, just as valuable in many ways.

We will do this – with your help. Make this happen, so we can rock the world.

Art by Larry R. titled “When in doubt, boogie”

Dave Leon from Painted Brain on Facebook Live with The Mighty !

Dave Leon is the founder and director of Painted Brain, a peer-driven media and outreach campaign for young adults with mental illnesses. He’s live now sharing his experiences and answering your questions.

If you or someone you know needs support right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Elyn Saks Joins the Painted Brain Board

img_3160“It is as if Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half.”

~Abraham Maslow

Mental health survivors breaking the “sound barrier” of stigma:

Elyn Saks – USC Gould School of Law Associate Dean & Professor of Law, Psychology, Psychiatry, & the Behavioral Sciences at USC​ – is one of them, and she wrote a book “The Center Cannot Hold” about her struggles with schizophrenia, how solid social support and a diabolically open mind were crucial to surviving the mental health journey.

“There’s a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life….We who struggle with these disorders can lead full, happy, productive lives if we have the right resources.”

There is a Silver Lining in Mental Illness

Painted Brain is happy and proud to have Elyn as a board member of our new chapter as an independent non-profit 🙂 .

Painted Brain Gets Pinterest-y!

On February 15, 2017, Painted Brain held a workshop at our headquarters. Led by one of our interns from Project Return Peer Support Network (PRPSN), participants were led through the process of setting up a Pinterest account, posting articles, videos, fave photos, and more. Many participants were new to Pinterest. By the end of the workshop, everyone had a Pinterest account set up, and has already created a few boards and posted a few articles videos and photos from Google Images, Flickr, and such.


The Pinterest workshop is the first in a series of social media marketing workshops to be held as an umbrella of the Painted Brain Academy project. We have in the past provided workshops in:

Peer Leader Training,

Public Speaking,


Journalistic writing,

and Social Media.

We’re working on turning it into a year-round program.