HopeStory of Public Mental Health Exhibit

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HopeStory of Public Mental Health Exhibit: Toward Better Understanding of Mental Health and Wellness

Los Angeles County, United StatesLos Angeles, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

We will translate the stories and videos in our HopeStory website to a portable, interactive modular exhibit to be set up at malls, museums and other public sites around LA County. UCLA student volunteers will help to staff the exhibit and enhance the educational experience of visitors.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if every person in LA County got to know a mental health client in recovery and better understood the challenges of mental illness?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

People with mental illness, given caring professional treatment, can reach a level of recovery that allows them to function within their community -- many are able to live independently, pursue an education and hold a job. However, as many people in Los Angeles County have little knowledge and often some fear of mental illness, recovering mental health clients may face stigma, discrimination and social rejection as they try to rejoin society.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Personal experiences with mental health clients and increased understanding of mental illness are the best methods of reducing stigma and opening work and social opportunities to those affected by these disorder. Our HopeStory website provides much information to increase understanding, including video interviews with clients, but most site visitors already have some level of interest and understanding. Through an attractive, engaging traveling exhibit, staffed by UCLA students and staff and by mental health clients in recovery, we will increase the opportunities for public engagement and for meaningful learning by a wider segment of the community and promote understanding and social inclusion of people with mental disorders in LA County.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

A mother and daughter out shopping see the exhibit at a mall and decide to take a look. They view the panels, participate in an interactive computer game that helps them understand what "mental health recovery" is all about and ask questions of the staff person there. Talking with this person, they are surprised to learn she is a mental health client herself and to hear more about her life and experiences. Later, the mother speaks out at a neighborhood meeting in favor of approving a local housing facility for recovering clients; while the daughter volunteers to teach an art class at a mental health clinic and helps her students to show their work at a local show. Multiply that mother and daughter by 10 folks a day, 52 weeks a year!

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In the past year, our website has had 2,864 visitors (67.9% new visitors, 32.1% return), who have viewed 12,203 pages, or an average of 4-5 pages per visit. We also have 90 likes on Facebook; and we receive a few e-mails every month, generally with questions or suggested additions or revisions. We have also shown videos and made presentations to groups of students and have been impressed with how even a short presentation featuring the faces and voices of mental health clients can change the students' thinking about mental disorders, about the lives of mental health clients, about the possible risks of violence. We envision the exhibit as expanding and multiplying the impact of such presentations throughout the County. We think also that student volunteers will learn through their work on this project, about mental health and about the challenges of changing public opinion.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

We envision the project as having a ripple effect through LA County and its many diverse neighborhoods. Our ultimate goal for the County would be a community in which mental health clients are accepted and welcomed in workplaces, schools and social settings, and where mental health programs are given adequate support. We will also gather feedback from exhibit visitors and will write articles for publication about our exhibit in Psychiatric Services and other professional journals, which might encourage other local communities to develop similar projects and thus expand the impact nationally.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The website developed with LAC DMH support is permanently housed as part of the Semel Institute site. The requested budget is for exhibit materials and construction costs and for initial staffing. Once the exhibit is created, it has a potentially long life with minimal maintenance. We will rely on student and client volunteers to continue staffing and will look for a local business or NGO sponsor to support ongoing maintenance and transport.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

LAC-DMH, Mental Health America, and NAMI (the National Alliance for Mental Illness) have several programs directed at stigma reduction and social inclusion for mental health clients in LA County and nationally. These include LAC-DMH's Meeting of the Minds programs on PBS and NAMI's "In Our Own Voice" video series. However, all of these, like our website, are most likely to reach those who already have an interest in or understanding of mental illness. Our goal for the HopeStory exhibit is to reach the widest public possible at museums, shopping malls and other public locations.

Founding Story

When I began studying public mental health programs in 2009, I knew a good deal about the history of mental illness and of mental health policy and very little about mental health clients themselves. I imagined them as living a half-life, needing ongoing supervision and material support. When I began to meet and talk to real clients, I was stunned to meet interesting and vital people with incredibly rich stories to tell. My thinking changed within one afternoon. I realized that mental health clients need ongoing care, as do people with any chronic illness, but that they also have much to contribute and teach the rest of us. I think that if others have the same experience, they will come to share my understanding and want to learn more.


The present team is UCLA and LAC-DMH staff -- a psychiatrist, two historians, an archivist/exhibit specialist and two community relations specialists, with an exhibit specialist and website designer as advisors. The core group has worked together for five years, created the HopeStory website and sponsored a highly successful conference in 2010. As the project evolves, we will make extensive use of student and client volunteer assistance.
About You
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About Your Project
Organization Name
How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

, CA, Los Angeles

Country where this project is creating social impact

, CA, Los Angeles County

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Regional government, Other.

Describe your partnership.

The UCLA History and Social Studies of Medicine program (part of the Semel Institute) has collaborated with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health since 2007. Together, we created the HopeStory website to share the stories and challenges of mental health programs and the strengths and contributions of mental health clients to help reduce stigma and to educate the public about mental health. The website includes oral histories, documents, videos and interpretative essays. We have used the website as a teaching tool for students and for community members. The UCLA team has also helped to collect and evaluate data about new LAC DMH programs, to serve as a basis for future policy and program development.

How does your project enhance community engagement for UCLA Health and/or the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA?

Our project engages UCLA faculty, staff and students together with LAC DMH staff and with mental health clients in the problem of re-integrating these clients in the community, reducing stigma, building social inclusion and increasing work and education opportunities, all of which are essential for maintaining true mental wellness. Through our ongoing relationship with LAC DMH, we build and sustain awareness of the challenges faced by mental health clients in Los Angeles County and the impact that new policies and programs have on their lives.