With Compelling Photography, An Artist Hopes To Lessen The Stigma Of Mental Illness

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Dior Vargas, a self-described “Latina Feminist Mental Health Activist,” is bringing much-needed attention to the prevalence of mental illnesses in communities of color through a photography project that asks everyday people to raise awareness about the issue. In general, mental illness is one of those touchy subjects that makes many uncomfortable, mostly because as a whole, those kinds of illnesses are not always well understood or spoken about without hyperbole. According to “Newsweek,” more than 18% of Americans adults suffer with mental illness including anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia every year, which means nearly 1 in 5 people in any given room are struggling with conditions that not only cause them suffering, but that stigmatize them so severely that in many instances, the illnesses go undiagnosed and untreated.

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For Vargas, that quagmire is particularly prevalent in communities of color, where issues in mental health are often left unaddressed due to a variety of factors including lack of access to affordable healthcare and psychological treatments. “We need to change the way this is represented. This is not something to be ashamed about. We need to confront and end the stigma. This is a NOT a white person’s disease. This is a reality for so many people in our community,” says Vargas. To help cast light on the predicament, she has turned to men and women of color who suffer from some form of mental illness, whom she asks to share their stories in a photograph in an effort to dispel any myths that mental illness is rare or unusual. Thanks to the contributions of thousands, the campaign has gone viral and has opened up channels of communication about the importance of mental health, something that even the Hip-Hop community has publicly dealt with. Artists like DMC, Kxng Crooked, Scarface, and Yelawolf are just a few of the artists who have suffered both privately and in the open and it is through the sharing of their personal experiences that has helped to demistify the notion that such ailments can also affect those who from the outside appear to be living the high life. Check out some of the photos from the POC & Mental Illness Photo Project below, and visit Vargas’ official website to learn about how to get involved.

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