Dave Leon is the Director of The Painted Brain, a “community of mental health activists using media and the arts to change the discussion about mental illness.” The LA organization has been breaking down barriers for those with mental illness for over ten years. Dave has been leading the charge, so let’s find out more about the man making a difference.
Dave started out working with kids who had autism, but it wasn’t something he had planned to do. Right out of college, all he knew was that he wanted to work for a non-profit organization. That led him down the path of helping those with mental illness. He surprised himself by loving his work with children, and he realized that he had a love and passion for supporting people. Dave became a social worker- a career that allowed him to follow his passion.
Working in the field of mental health, Dave has seen first-hand how negative the world views those with mental illness. He believes that fear is the biggest contributing factor to this. The fear comes from people being afraid of the unknown, and mental illness is a scary unknown to many people who don’t have them. On top of that, people are also afraid to see what’s inside themselves. And looking at someone with a mental illness makes them take a closer look at what goes on inside. He also believes that the portrayal of mental illness in media only makes things worse.
That’s where the Painted Brain (a division of Project Return) comes in. It started out as a solely volunteer-based organization dedicated to giving people with mental illness a chance to be “loud and proud” through all types of art. It has blossomed into a staffed organization that has given people with mental illness the chance to express themselves. They have a community center that is open three days a week, where people can be free of judgement. There are group activities for those who want to participate, but for others it’s a place to relax and unwind. People can also share their feelings and experiences in the Painted Brain’s online newspaper.
So, how can art change minds about mental illness? Dave believes that “art is a connector.” It serves as a natural bridge, connecting people regardless of what’s going on in their brains. And creativity is not hampered by mental illness. If anything it’s enhanced. Artists with mental illness can help people understand mental illness through their creations.
The Painted Brain allows these artists to flourish. Many of them have taken on leadership roles in the organization, giving Dave hope that things will continue to improve. His organization is a testament to what people with mental illness can accomplish, and a reminder that art speaks volumes. If that doesn’t make him an advocacy champion, I don’t know what does.
Note: All of the artworks in this article were contributed by members of The Painted Brain community.
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