‘Inside Out’ art exhibit created to de-stigmatize mental illness
Meri Ivy Read was just 15 when she tried to take her life for the first time. Bouts of depression and mania left her feeling out of control and isolated.
“It was like being on a roller coaster – one moment I was on top of the world. The next moment, I would feel empty inside and the slightest thing would send me into a downward spiral of self-hatred and self-pity,” said Meri, who is now 18.
After extensive counseling, the right medication and a stay at Wolfson Children’s Hospital Behavioral Health Unit, Meri was able to turn her life around. Now she and others are using their experiences with mental illness to help reduce the stigma associated with it through art.
Meri’s artwork is one of 40 pieces that was on display at Baptist Health’s four adult hospitals: Baptist Jacksonville, Baptist Beaches, Baptist South and Baptist Nassau. Each exhibit features 12” by 12” canvasses depicting the artists’ views of either their own mental illness or that of a family member.
“The stigma associated with mental illness can lead to shame, prejudice and discrimination, which prevents people who are living with mental illness from seeking help and reaching their full potential,” said Melanie Patz, Baptist Health’s vice president of Community Investment and Impact.
The exhibit is called “Inside Out” and its goal is to bring awareness to mental health issues and that it is okay to “come out” about mental illness. Artist names are proudly displayed next to their artwork.
“I have benefitted by ‘coming out’ about my mental health journey,” Meri said. “It got me the treatment I needed to be healthy and to understand my emotions. Discussing mental illness and being open about it will break the stigma, and it will help others get treatment. If we can make talking about mental illness less taboo it would lower suicide rates and people will be more likely to seek treatment.”
“Inside Out” was first exhibited at One Spark in 2015 and is a project of “I Still Matter,” an organization that fosters mental and emotional healing through art and creative expression. Since then, the exhibit has been located at Church of the Redeemer, Florida State College of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Main Library
Meri is now a senior in high school and is on the A/B honor roll. She recently completed her certified nursing assistant designation and has a healthy outlook for her future. “I love and respect myself,” she said. “I hope coming out about mental health will help others do the same.”