Student Projects Contribute to the Fight Against Stigma

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Sixteen students and one teacher from schools around Connecticut were honored at the 15th annual BrainDance Awards on April 26, presented by the Institute of Living.

The BrainDance Awards encourage high school students to learn about psychiatric conditions and develop a more tolerant and realistic perspective toward people with severe psychiatric problems. The competition also aims to promote student interest in careers in mental health care.

“Each project celebrated at the BrainDance Awards encompasses our mission of decreasing stigma and discrimination, and increasing the involvement of students in the lives and issues that face those with mental illness,” said Dr. Harold Schwartz, psychiatrist-in-chief of the Institute of Living and vice president of behavioral health at Hartford Hospital. “This is an important part of getting students involved not just in mental illness, but in mental wellness for a lifetime.”

Awards and cash prizes were given to first, second and third-place finishers in the Art, Academic and Mixed Media categories, and the students presented a brief overview of their projects.

Winners included:


  • 1ST PLACE: “The Story Through Music” by Hannah Wheelock from Bristol Eastern High School
  • 2ND PLACE (TIE): “The Model” by Erin Collinge from East Lyme High School
  • 2ND PLACE (TIE): “Breathe” by Jennifer Santos from Bristol Eastern High School
  • 3rd PLACE (TIE): “The Walls” by Mairead Reilly from Woodland Regional High School
  • 3rd PLACE (TIE): “Caged Emotion” by Alexa Gosselin from RHAM High School


  • 1ST PLACE: “Education’s Impact on Perceptions About Borderline Personality Disorder” by Ashley Varjenski, Noelis Guzman and Kaitlyn Stripling from Norwich Technical High School
  • 2ND PLACE: “Education Increases Empathy Towards Autism” by Kalli Campbell and Tayler Plante from Norwich Technical High School
  • 3rd PLACE: “High School Stigma” by Shane Caron from Bristol Eastern High School

Mixed Media

  • 1ST PLACE: “#WordsMatter” by Deniz Çamli-Saunders from University High School of Science and Engineering
  • 2ND PLACE: “Body Dysmorphia” by Jack Souder and Dylan Reilly from Salisbury School
  • 3rd PLACE: “Early Onset Bipolar Disorder” by Miranda Janick and Julia Dimattia from Bristol Eastern High School

The projects were judged by expert clinicians and researchers in the field, who determined winners based on creativity, accuracy, scientific rigor and relevance to the issue of mental health stigma.

Meredith Kirkpatrick, an AP English teacher at Coventry High School, was also honored for her support of the BrainDance Awards and the work she has done to help stop the stigma of mental illness.

“The BrainDance Awards are designed to make students more aware – and get them more passionate and caring about – mental health issues while having fun and being creative,” said Dr. Godfrey Pearlson, director of the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center at the Institute of Living. “We encourage students to research psychiatric diseases they might not be familiar with and, based on what they discover for themselves, to develop a more tolerant and accepting attitude toward people who have them.”

Dr. Pearlson presented the awards along with Nancy Hubbard, LCSW, and Jimmy Choi, PsyD, of the Institute of Living.

Winners joined their teachers, families and classmates for the award ceremony celebration and participated in complementary educational opportunities, including a panel discussion with mental health professionals and a lecture about teen suicide and psychosis from Dr. Choi.

Attendees were also invited to tour the neuroimaging research center and visit the Myths, Minds & Medicine museum, which highlights the history of mental health care.

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