Students Combat Mental Health Stigma at 14th Annual BrainDance Awards

May 02, 2017

Nineteen students and one teacher from schools in Connecticut and Minnesota were honored at the 14th annual BrainDance Awards on April 27, presented by the Institute of Living (IOL) at Hartford Hospital.

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 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: “Minimal Effort” by Lorenzo Cavallo from Southington High School
  • 2ND PLACE (TIE): “The Blizzard” by Helen Roets from Ellington High School
  • 2ND PLACE (TIE): “Relapse” by Amelia Rozear from Sacred Heart Academy
  • 3rd PLACE (TIE): “Exposed” by Brittany Cassidy & Faith Stimson from Norwich Technical High School
  • 3rd PLACE (TIE): “Toss Down the Umbrellas” by Samantha Olbrias from RHAM High School


  • 1ST PLACE: “Stomping the Stigma of Schizophrenia” by Kimaela Estelan & Anjoli Kamuda from Norwich Technical High School
  • 2ND PLACE: “The BrainDance Magazine” by Angela Tabor & Grace Lancto from Norwich Technical High School
  • 3rd PLACE: “Changing Attitudes Towards Panic Disorder” by Ashley Roch & Qameron Mendez-Neff from Norwich Technical High School

Mixed Media

  • 1ST PLACE: “Mental Illness Project” by Emily Ren from Century High School
  • 2ND PLACE: “The Tides Have Turned” by Mari Cullerton, Brooke Olownia, Kyra Cullerton & Eve Cullerton from Housatonic Valley Regional High School
  • 3rd PLACE: “Call me Crazy” by Katherine McGuire & Katherine Starr from Housatonic Valley Regional 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.

Mrs. Michelle Papa, an advanced creative writing teacher at Woodland Regional 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.

Awards were presented by Dr. Godfrey Pearlson, director of the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center at the Institute of Living and Dr. Philip Corlett, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University.

“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. Pearlson. “Stigma is kind of a polite word for discrimination. So what we strive to do is encourage students to research psychiatric diseases they might not be familiar with and, based on what they discover for themselves, develop a more tolerant and accepting attitude toward people who have them.”

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 Grand Rounds Lecture from Dr. Corlett entitled, “Perceiving and Believing: Understanding Hallucinations and Delusions.” Attendees were also invited to visit the Myths, Minds & Medicine museum that highlights the history of mental health care and a tour of the neuroimaging research center.