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Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.
Essays and Blogs Concerning Mental and Emotional Health

Amber Osterhout's Artwork Combats Mental Illness Stigma

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 5th 2009

painting by Amber Osterhout illustrating auditory hallucinations in schizophreniaMental illnesses affect more than just those people who "have" them. Affected too are family members, friends and co-workers; those people who live with patients or care for them or work with them; those people who have a relationship with mentally ill persons in some fashion; who love them and who suffer with them as they suffer. Particularly when the mental illness in question is disabling and severe, family members and friends frequently become care-givers and advocates and do what they can to help their loved ones to make their way. It's a hard and emotionally taxing job sometimes as patients do not always want to cooperate with those who want to help them. Patient family members who are psychotic, for instance, do not always want to take prescribed medications or maintain personal hygiene or even to remain living in the safe confines of a family home. As well, access to necessary medical and psychosocial resources is increasingly limited. In America, unless you are rich and can afford to pay fairly large sums out of pocket, locating quality care for disabled family members is quite the trick. Family members and friends who take up a care-giving or advocacy role can easily become frustrated by the demands of their chosen task, by the barriers to effective care that society presents, and by the feeling of relative helplessness that can accompany the caregiving task.

While the care-giving and advocacy role can be challenging, it can also become a way that family members and friends can become energized to try to effect change. I was recently contacted by Amber Osterhout, a New York state based graphic artist, and the sister of a young man diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Amber has learned first hand about the difficulties of trying to help her brother stay well cared for, and as well has had a crash course concerning the various forms of prejudice and stigma that continue to be associated with mental illnesses like Schizophrenia in the popular imagination. One of Amber's responses to this stigma has been to use her artistic talents to create an anti-stigma educational campaign. To this effect, she has created paintings and posters which attempt (I think quite successfully) to illustrate her brother's experience of Schizophrenia; the voices and the delusions he experiences. I have reproduced a few examples here; there are more to see at Amber's website and on her blog, both of which which I hope everyone reading here will take a few moments to visit.

Amber's idea is to create a multimedia presentation that can be offered to high schools and colleges to help educate students on this important subject. I hope that those of you who are in a position to do educational work will be able to benefit from the materials Amber has and will be creating, and that Amber will be able to benefit from what I hope will be warm support for her efforts.

PLEASE DON'T JUDGE ME - a poster by Amber Osterhout designed to combat mental illness stigma

Updated April 15, 2009

We received an email from Amber today letting us know that her prints and posters are now available on her website. She reminded us that 75% of all print sales will be donated to various mental health charities. You can check those out at Gaining Insight

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Presently, he is an Oakland Psychologist (Lic#PSY25695) in private practice offering evidence-based acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and addressing a range of life problems. Contact Dr. Dombeck by calling 510-900-5123, send Dr. Dombeck email or visit Dr. Dombeck's practice website for more information.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Isn't Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness is Non Negotiable ? - Tim Giangiobbe - Jan 17th 2011

Welcome to America!

Isn't Life Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness is Non Negotiable?

Not when your mentally ILL in San Francisco.

The Stigma sticks and nobody can get beyond that.The NIMBYism is the Indicator!


Luminous - Lisa - Jan 10th 2011

Amber - Your art is luminous. Strength in design and color.

INSPIRING - olurotimi - Sep 28th 2009


I Have Schzophienia - Michael Eberhart - Jun 20th 2009

Ya I Know How The Stigma Hurts People I Try To Fight Stigma Everyday It just seems you get no where But I Still Try

We too can join Amber! - Dr.T - Mar 9th 2009

This is a great idea! I am happy for Amber and I hope she continues to allow her artistic talent to work for the benefits of those in need. You don't see many artists taking the time to "campaign" for those suffering from a form of mental illness. Schizophrenia is one of the worst disorders in the DSM for many families; some would rather be diagnosed with heart disease or ADHD. Schizophrenia is very frustrating and also painful for everyone involved, mainly family who must sit and watch while their loved one suffers and the world continues to go by stigmatizing, ignoring, and living their own lives. It is, I'm sure, often a very lonely place and I feel for Amber and her sibling and others.

As a grad student studying clinical psychology I too have tried to add to the plethora of on campus activities by making mental illness more spoken of and embraced. Colleges are certainly in need of this type of educational opportunity; high schools are more in need because 18 is often the age at which an adolescent experiences schizophrenia and other common mental illnesses. If adolescents and young adults knew more about their mental health and the mental health of their entourage,they probably would be more compassionate about those who suffer daily and often in silence.

I would encourage anyone reading this to consider making the subject of mental illness a topic that will never be pushed to the back again, as it often has been.

For information on how to do this, visit:;;;  and/or

When we reach out and make mental illness a well-known topic, we are opening better opportunities for our family or loved ones who could very well experience a mental illness.

Best regards


Impressive - - Mar 5th 2009

These pieces are quite impressive and thought-provoking. I especially like the second for depicting how stigma can come to dominate the thoughts and treatment of people with mental illnesses.

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