Snap-it: Fighting Stigmas of Mental Illness

Elissa Sanci

Mental illness is common in the United States—according to the National Institute of Mental Health, about one in four adults in the U.S. suffer from a mental disorder—yet not many people truly understand it.

With mental illness comes all types of the negative stigmas; the Snap-it Performers, a group of seven individuals in recovery from serious mental illnesses and substance abuse, came to the University of New Haven Monday, April 22, to dispel these stereotypes surrounding mental disorders.

The Snap-it Program, fueled by the Connecticut Mental Health Center Foundation and brought to UNH through the undergraduate Psychology Club and the graduate Community Psychology Club, performs at colleges and high schools in an attempt to educate students who want to go into the psychology field and work with people with mental disabilities.

Originally, the program was aimed toward care providers, but these people were already in the field, and Elizabeth Flanagan, Assistant Professor for the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health, said the performers felt that they weren’t making an impression on their audience because they were already set in their ways.

“The performers wanted to catch students before they started working professionally,” Flanagan said. “They wanted to leave an impression with them of people with mental illness that would eventually help their careers. This will lead to improved health care for people with mental illness and addiction.”

The individuals of the Snap-It Program—called Performers—spent eight weeks taking pictures that describe who they are: these pictures tell the story of where they came from, their recovery and what is important to them now.

These pictures, and the program as a whole essentially, are meant to show the audience that even though a person has a mental illness, they can still lead normal lives.

“We are human beings first,” Cynthia Hunter, one of the Performers, said. “This disease can affect anyone and you shouldn’t laugh at other people with this problem because it could always happen to you.”

Hunter was 13 when she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but used drugs as a way to deal with it rather than seeking proper medical attention. Hunter was brought up in a family where admitting you had a problem was not acceptable and would bring shame upon the family.

“I’m not ashamed anymore, because if I was, I wouldn’t be here talking about it,” Hunter said in her presentation. Hunter went through many years of substance abuse and even served jail time.

Every performer has overcome their substance abuse and is now working toward leading normal lives.

“The message the Snap-it Program sends is an important one,” Isaak Kifle, Sergeant-of-Arms of the undergraduate Psychology Club, said. “It helps to clear up all of the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding mental illness.”