Activist Uses Photo Series To Show Mental Illness Is “Not A White Person’s Disease”

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April V. Taylor

Latina feminist Dior Vargas recently undertook a photography project to help remind people that contrary to the images perpetuated in the media and popular culture, mental health issues are “not a white person’s disease.” Vargas points out that men and women of color who have mental illnesses are often not included in the mainstream narrative, and she is hoping that her photo project will provide a more accurate picture of those who struggle with mental health issues.

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Speaking with The Huffington Post, Vargas states, “The media portrayal of people of color in general is so dehumanizing and usually created by white people who have no idea what it is to be a person of color who experiences multiple oppressions. It’s important to provide a space where people can be in charge of their own narratives.”

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Vargas is hoping that her photo project provides a space where the stories of people of color with mental illness are validated and valued in a way that moves the conversation about the issue forward. More than 60 men and women of color have participated in the project so far, with participants submitting pictures of themselves holding signs that state their name, their mental health issue, if they feel comfortable sharing it, and anything else they felt compelled to share.

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Vargas hopes that participants walk away knowing, “That they are not alone and there is hope. A mental illness diagnosis is not a death sentence and there are so many people who continue to live meaningful and fulfilling lives.” Those who want to participate are still able to submit pictures for the project.

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In addition to the photos that have already submitted, Vargas is also working on a second phase of the project that she has successfully funded through Kickstarter that will allow her to hire a photographer to create a print book and also possibly allow the high resolution images to placed on display in galleries. Vargas has also written an essay for The Huffington Post entitled, “People of Color Deal With Mental Illness, Too.” Vargas states, “There are many ways to remove the stigma of mental illness in communities of color. Why not start here? I know it’s not a simple task. It’s going to take time to change the norms but we need to get started now.”

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