Reducing stigma, promoting healing

MINDfest brings people of all ages together to heal, celebrate and destigmatize mental health.

“Mental health is about so much more than mental illness,” said Dr. Jody Early, professor and interim director of Health Studies in the University of Washington Bothell’s School of Nursing & Health Studies. “It’s about joy and our connections — it’s about thriving within community.”

With this understanding as a foundation, Early and her collaborators at Mental Health Matters of Washington have developed MINDfest 2023: Celebrating the Mind, Nourishing the Soul. MINDfest is a free, mental health arts festival that features speakers, workshops and activities for all ages with the goal of building community through interpersonal healing. 

“What we’re trying to do with MINDfest is bring diverse communities together to have open conversation and change the current narrative to broaden our view of mental health,” Early said.

A focus on diverse needs

Co-created in 2021 by Early and Sandra Huber, who serves as community engagement manager with the Verdant Health Commission, MHM of Washington aims to promote mental health through tailored health education, community engagement, resource navigation and social support. Its peer mental health navigators training program addresses mental health through daily conversation and connects people to key resources such as housing, crisis counselors, BIPOC mental health providers and health services.

The program has now grown through support from a variety of companies and organizations to the point where it can also host larger-scale events such as MINDfest.

“Our goal for MINDfest is for people to experience real stories about mental health, learn ways to better communicate with others, participate in public discourse, and join others to affect change in health models and public policy,” said Ana Thompson, learning and access designer at UW Bothell and technical adviser for MHM. “There is a very clear demand for this type of community healing.”

Jody Early, professor, School of Nursing & Health Studies

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one out of five people in the United States in 2019 had a mental illness. — and the Association of American Medical Colleges notes that number has likely risen after the pandemic with increased rates of anxiety and depression. The AAMC further states that more than 150 million people live in areas where there is a shortage of mental health professionals.

MHM is working to help address this gap through culturally tailored, evidenced-based messaging and education. “Culturally and linguistically, our country is extremely diverse, and so our strategies should be just as diverse,” Early said. “What we’re trying to do with our program is create more community-driven models for care and prevention.

“Instead of this tertiary approach where we wait for people to fall off the cliff rather than preventing them from falling in the first place, we should come from a more holistic solution,” she said. “Mental care looks different culturally for everyone, whether that be through dancing, music, storytelling or drum circles. Though important, it doesn’t have to be lectures and therapy.”

Stories for social change

Annika Sahota, program manager and research assistant at Mental Health Matters

MINDfest is an intentional mix of speakers, panel discussions, workshops and activities designed to both educate and inspire.

“To support our long-term goal of reducing stigma surrounding mental health, we have centered the arts in this event and provided a platform for individuals to share their own narratives,” said Annika Sahota, program manager and research assistant at MHM. “This allows us to meet people where they are rather than forcing them to perceive mental wellness in any certain way, which may not be conducive to their healing.”

Speakers include Richard Taylor Jr., Roxana Pardo, Dr. Lucía Magis-Weinberg and Sixta Morel. Taylor, a mental health advocate and author who identifies as a Black male suicide survivor, will speak on his healing journey and the importance of connection, vulnerability and erasing stigma. Pardo, an artist and the CEO and founder of La Roxay Productions as well as the nonprofit organization Alimentando al Pueblo, will discuss what it means to heal not only as an individual but also as a communally. Magis-Weinberg, assistant professor in the UW’s Department of Psychology, will talk about her research around youth mental health and social media. Event emcee Morel is a voice actor and produces a podcast called Gente, Historias y Emociones.

All speakers share an underlying message — the importance of acknowledging the power of systems.

“Part of MHM WA and MINDfest’s strategies is giving our community the opportunity to hear diverse and inclusive stories for social change, to promote healing for and by marginalized communities,” Huber said. “We hope to build understanding and show the complex ways communities experience systems of inequality and how they seek to welcome healing.”

(l-r) Sandra Huber, Jody Early, Ana Thompson, Noemi Rivera courtesy photo

Another goal for MHM programming is to promote dialogue that can reduce stigma and reinforce that it is okay to have uncomfortable conversations.

“It is time to end all forms of stigma and discrimination against people with mental health conditions, for whom there is a double jeopardy: the impact of the primary condition itself and the severe consequences of stigma,” Huber said. “Many people describe stigma as ‘worse than the condition itself.’”

Restoration for all

“MINDfest encourages all voices to be included in the mental health conversation,” said Monika Star, MHM social media manager. “I believe there are multitudes of courageous and resilient individuals among us with their own stories and wisdom to share.”

Attendees also will be invited to participate in a variety of restorative activities, such as a sound bath, art therapy, mindfulness practices, yoga nidra, laughter yoga and a workshop on how food impacts mood. For the event finale, Milvia Pachelo of Movimiento Afrolatino Seattle, along with Otoqui Reyes and Los Hijos de Agüeybana, will present a performance incorporating music, dance and poetry.

“Our goal is that people who attend can take away at least one new piece of knowledge or practice that can help them or someone around them to improve their overall well-being,” said Nohemi Rivera, MHM lead navigator. “There’s something for everyone.”

MINDfest will also host more than 16 local and national organizations that provide free or low-cost services, including National Alliance on Mental Illness (Snohomish, Eastside and Seattle), Verdant Health, Coordinated Care, C3, Providence Institute for a Healthier Community, Charlie Health, Ideal Option, Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, Center for Human Services, Community Health Centers, Latino Educational Training Institute, United Healthcare and more.

“We welcome everyone to MINDfest,” said Early. “Communities have the wisdom and the solutions for healing as well as systems-level change. Hopefully, we can go beyond surviving to thriving and come together as a community for this event and events MHM has the honor of holding in the future.”

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