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How I’ve used art to express my journey with schizophrenia and reduce stigma around mental illness

Artistic creation can offer people living with mental illness an outlet to describe their journeys. Schizophrenia advocate Michelle Hammer uses art to start conversations about the disorder to help eradicate stigma.

Find out how others living with schizophrenia are using art to tell their authentic stories here, and read Michelle’s story below. 

Ten years ago, I bought a sketchbook and markers. I had the sliver of an idea and wanted to see where it took me.  During that summer, I started drawing detailed abstract designs using random colors — whatever fanciful beauty entered my mind and could be brought to life on paper.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but drawing was helping calm me.  The more anxious I was, the more detailed the drawings would be. That summer, I drew endlessly until my sketchbook was completely filled with colorful and detailed sketches.

These pieces of art would become so much more than I originally intended. I took my sketchbook and brought it to my computer. Because of my graphic art background, I was able to layer the images I had created, change colors, apply various styles, and all the design magic that I could think of. Before I realized it, I had turned the doodles in my sketchbook into amazing pieces of artwork.

This changed the trajectory of my life. Now, I’ve created artwork that has sold all over the world.

Advocating for Others Through Schizophrenic.NYC

Three-and-a-half years ago I started a mental health clothing line. I named my company Schizophrenic.NYC because I’m from New York City and I’m not ashamed I live with schizophrenia. I’m proud to say this company was started by a “schizophrenic girl.”

For my product and clothing line, I used the black Rorschach Test as my inspiration.  In my experience, when a person living with schizophrenia looks at this image, they see it from a different perspective than someone without schizophrenia.

So, I changed around the colors and patterns and now everyone has to look at it from a different perspective. This forces people to think differently, and more importantly, start a conversation.  I believe that only through an open dialogue about mental health can we reduce or even eradicate stigma.

Because NYC is tourist destination and because I’m at conferences all over the country, I get to interact with people from all over the world when displaying my products and clothing.

I believe that people want to talk about mental illness — they just don’t know how. In addition to my art, I’m lucky to be able to talk so openly about mental illness through my advocacy efforts and on my podcast, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. Talking openly about schizophrenia, creating my artwork and clothing, and advocating has been an incredible journey.

Through thousands of social media comments, hundreds of emails, and more one-on-one conversations than I can count, I’ve learned that everyone agrees there needs to be more understanding and education surrounding mental illness.

I believe that, working together, we can achieve that — one conversation at a time.

Michelle is partnering with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., to share her story. She has been paid an honorarium for her time.

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