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Science and Art Help End Stigma About Mental Illness

Science and Art Help End Stigma About Mental Illness
Jun 26, 2018

Globally, one person in four will develop a mental or neurological disorder at some point in his or her life.1 Despite such a high prevalence, stigma  – shame or disgrace – about mental illnesses still exists to a great degree in society. Stigma is deeply rooted in fear of the unknown and what is different, and it also exists because of a lack of understanding about the biological basis of brain disorders. According to a new U.S. survey conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of Janssen, 92 percent of respondents believe there is stigma in our society against those with mental illnesses.2

There is a great need to generate awareness and understanding about mental illnesses and to dismantle the prevalence of stigma. Sharing information about the biological basis of mental health disorders and how they can be treated, and sparking conversation about stigma and why it’s wrong, can lead to greater personal insights and societal understanding.3  Janssen and Johnson & Johnson Innovation have launched the Champions of Science: The Art of Ending Stigma project with leading arts and mental health organizations to leverage the power of artistic creation to break down stigma and build greater empathy and understanding.

Through public engagement, Champions of Science: The Art of Ending Stigma will encourage people to demonstrate how art, in its many forms, can help transcend mental illnesses and lead to a better understanding of them. The hope is to empower individuals to become champions of science by offering education about the biological basis of mental illnesses, with the goal of increasing acceptance, fostering compassion, and combating discrimination once and for all.

For inspiration and to participate in the project, visit www.artofendingstigma.com. People are also encouraged to share their creativity with others using the hashtag #ArtofEndingStigma

Janssen is collaborating with seven prominent mental health advocacy and arts organizations on the project, including PeaceLove, One Mind, TEAM, Mental Health America, Museum Dr. Guislain, the New Day Campaign and Mural Arts Philadelphia. Working with these organizations, the project will reach a diverse range of individuals with differing mindsets to confront misconceptions around these diseases.

According to the Janssen Harris Poll, stigma may prevent people with mental illnesses from seeking help. It is essential we help break down that barrier and communicate about the unique biological events that lead to the development of brain disorders.

“Everyone is affected by mental illnesses in one way or another, and we - as a society - need to be more vocal about that,” says Husseini Manji, M.D., Global Head, Neuroscience Therapeutic Area, Janssen Research & Development, LLC. “There should be no stigma or shame. Mental illnesses are just like any other chronic condition, and people who live with them should be treated the same way we treat people with other medical conditions. Let’s work together to eradicate stigma so people can get the help they need.”

“For far too long, individuals dealing with mental illnesses have been subject to shame and stigma,” says Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America, “Art has always been a transformative medium that can communicate the truth and realities of mental illness.”

The link between art and mental illnesses is one that has been frequently observed throughout history and only recently supported by science. As Adrienne Sussman writes in the Stanford Journal of Neuroscience, “The contradiction of the genius who creates great artwork despite (or because of) mental illness, has been part of western legend for thousands of years.”4 This association is in part due to a possible link between abnormal activity in the frontal lobe of someone who is experiencing a mental illness with a heightened capability for producing creative work. Notable artists who lived with a mental illness include Edvard Munch, Vincent Van Gogh, Henry Darger and Georgia O'Keeffe.

Jeff Sparr, artist and co-founder of Peace Love, uses art to explore the mood states and emotions he’s experienced living with a mental illness.

Research further indicates that art can influence the brain. According to a study on the neurological impact of art, viewing images that are at once both recognizable and foreign, such as a painting of a distorted face, a la Picasso, can stimulate the brain in a pleasant way.5 “Art can have a more powerful impact on the visual and limbic brain areas than reality causing an emotional resonance,” notes V.S. Ramachandran, author of this research. In short, the neurological impact of art means that visually stimulating pieces can produce strong emotions within the viewer—particularly feelings of empathy and connection to the experience the art denotes.

Through public engagement, Champions of Science: The Art of Ending Stigma will encourage people from all backgrounds and walks of life to demonstrate how art can provide a more intimate understanding of what living with a mental illness is really like and relay the importance of overcoming stigma.

Together we can work to erase the misconceptions around mental illnesses and end stigma—painting a new picture in its place. The project will accept art submissions from the public in a variety of formats and styles from June 26 through October 31, 2018. For inspiration and to participate in the project, visit www.artofendingstigma.com. People are also encouraged to share their creativity with others using the hashtag #ArtofEndingStigma.


  1. “Mental Disorders Affect One in Four People.” World Health Report. World Health Organization, 2001. Web. Feb. 2018.
  2. Harris Poll/ Janssen Survey - 2018
  3. “The Roots of Mental Illness.”Science Watch. American Psychological Association, 2012. Web Oct. 2017.
  4. Sussman, A. “Mental Illness and Creativity: A Neurological View of the ‘Tortured Artist’.” Stanford Journal of Neuroscience Volume 1(1). (2007): 21-24.
  5. Alice W. Flaherty.“Frontotemporal and dopaminergic control of idea generation and creative drive,” The Journal of Comparative Neurology 493, issue 1 (2005): 147-153.



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Nerve fibers