This County's Residents Are Displaying Their Portraits to End Mental Illness Stigma

In the Shingletown Medical Center in Shingletown, California, the faces of those affected by mental health issues are not hiding behind closed doors. Instead, they’re proudly displayed on the center’s walls as part of the Brave Face Portrait Gallery, a photo and storytelling project that uses true stories to fight mental illness stigma.

Steve Keyser, who realized he had bipolar disorder late in his life, is one of those brave faces.


“I didn’t know if I was going to be racing or sad. I felt like I was at 100 mph while everyone else was at 55,” text under one of his portraits reads. “It caused me to be distant from people because I didn’t think I was fit for human consumption.”

Keyser is one of 20 people featured in the Brave Faces photo displays hanging all over Shasta County as part of the county’s Stand Against Stigma campaign. All subjects are Shasta County residents.



“The goal of the project is for Shasta County residents to see stories of local people they may recognize – neighbors, classmates, colleagues, etc. – that are destigmatizing and educat[ing] the community about mental health challenges and the nature of recovery,” Marc Dadigan, community education specialist for Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, told The Mighty in an email.

The project has also highlighted those who have lost a loved one to suicideSusan Guiton, whose nephew died by suicide, spoke about dealing with stigma surrounding her nephew’s death.


“The obituary said he ‘died at home.’ I realized then that suicide was a dirty word,” it reads under her portrait. “We have to stop shoving it under the rug. There are more teenagers contemplating suicide, and the stigma can be a big hurdle.”

Many of the people depicted in the portrait gallery have also been sharing their stories publicly as part of the Brave Faces and Voices project. About 25 speakers have spoken to more than 300 high school classes, church congregations, support groups and community clubs.


The stories, like Guiton’s, put a face on issues communities are too often silent about, leaving viewers with a message of recovery and hope.

“I think things get better by not being afraid of talking about our wonderful memories of Steven, laughing as a family, crying, and from that you can find hope,” Guiton’s portrait reads.


To see the other photo series and learn more about the Stand Against Stigma project, visit its website.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Suicide

The author and her brother Jeff, who died by suicide.

Please Stop Saying 'Committed' Suicide

Before my brother Jeff died by suicide, I never thought about the language used to talk about suicide. Immediately following his death and for a long time after, I was in shock, so the terms used to describe how he died mattered little to me. But as time passes and the shock subsides, I’ve discovered that I bristle [...]

Cross-Country Photo Project Shows Suicide Survivors There's Life After Darkness

Canadian photographer Suzanne Sagmeister has been taking portraits of suicide survivors for over a year. But her latest adventure is taking her across Canada for what she calls a “heart-driven, story-driven project.” It started with a 25-portrait photo series of both suicide survivors — those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide; and suicide attempt survivors [...]

I Never Knew a 4-Year-Old Could Be Suicidal

If someone had told me pre-parenthood a 4-year-old could communicate suicidal thoughts, I wouldn’t have believed them. Years later, with my own newly adopted bundle of joy, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about children and mental illness.  We were loving parents, protective, careful about media. And yet our child, Mateo, barely out of diapers, [...]

My Father's Suicide Shattered My Assumptions About Mental Illness

On July 9, 1999, I was at my apartment in Yankton, South Dakota. There was a knock on my door, and on the other side was my mother. She looked like she’d seen a ghost. Just by her demeanor, I knew something was terribly wrong. I didn’t know if she didn’t feel well or if [...]