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Mental Illness Treatment & Mistreatment in NYC 

A virtual exhibition about

mental health created through collaboration between students at NYC iSchool, their teacher, and the National Museum of Mental Health Project, as an extension of the

I Get It exhibition.

NYC iSchool


Mental Illness Treatment & Mistreatment in New York City

This collaborative exhibition features mini-documentaries, filmed by NYC’s iSchool students, about their research and perceptions of the historic and present treatment of mental illness in the city that never sleeps. Alongside these documentaries, we use the power of the arts to explore provocative questions about wellness in the 2020s and highlight other innovative mental health programs and resources in NYC.

Through their own voices and interviews, the students examine both the haunted past and current progress of mental health care within the city, and the impact of conflicting values and priorities in our lives and our communities. The documentaries explore the unsettling history of the former NYC Lunatic Asylum on Roosevelt Island as well as the heroic work of journalist and reformer Nellie Bly. The students contemplate social policy that surround homelessness and other related mental health challenges they witness on the streets and in their own lives


In 2023, newspaper headlines chronicle the endless stories of a mental health crisis. However, the beauty of New York City is that it becomes a new city with every passing second. Similar to the evolution of NYC, this exhibition will develop one frame at a time as spring turns into summer. We invite you to follow along from May through September for more student voices and to learn of inspiring organizations, programs, and people that are changing how mental health is experienced in New York City.

Living in a Big City

a mini-documentary by NYC iSchool student Lucy McGee 

This short film tells the story of life in a city that prioritizes money over joy. A daughter reflects about her own mental health and the deteriorating mental health of her father as he struggles with work-addiction. The video is a cautionary tale offering resources and help to those struggling in New York City's hustle and bustle.

About this film



Try a values card sort to find out!

Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)

CLICK HERE. Print out these 8 pages, and carefully separate each of the cards from one another. Find a quiet spot where you can stop everything else and just be with your own thoughts. One at a time, thoughtfully sort each of the values cards into one of the three categories. Reflect on what is most important to you.

Lucy McGee describes how when one is not living in harmony with one's values, life can get more difficult. Did you know that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy includes the goal of one increasing the degree to which we lead lives that reflect our personal values?

Q&A With Treena Thibodeau, NYC iSchool Teacher

Q. What are your goals for this course? A. As an educator, I created this class because the history of mental health matters to me, and because so many of the students I have worked with here in New York are personally affected by mental health challenges: their own, and those of the people they care about. COVID has only exacerbated these struggles and highlighted the inequities facing our neighborhoods. Q. Why does the historical treatment of mental illness matter in 2023? A. From cramped city madhouses, to lobotomies, to shock therapy, to the proliferation of brain-damaging neuroleptics, New York City has a long history of failing to adequately and compassionately address mental health concerns in our community. High-schoolers at the NYC iSchool in Soho explored various misguided attempts to treat mental illness and critiqued current proposals by Mayor Eric Adams to forcibly hospitalize unhoused individuals who appear to exhibit signs of mental illness. Q. Why does your course include an artistic element - the documentaries? A. I wanted to include a filmmaking component in this course because of the opportunities for visual storytelling that arose during our field work at Roosevelt Island. Students photographed Roosevelt Island; Blackwell’s Island– or as it was once colloquially known, Damnation Island, was the place where the city’s mentally ill were sequestered until journalist Nellie Bly exposed the practices there. Q. Do you have any final thoughts to share? A. As future reformers, leaders, reporters and activists, what changes do we still need? My students created these documentary films, with original photography and interview footage, to unpack some of the experiences of friends, family members, and mental health providers in our community. We are grateful for the opportunity to share our work.

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History & Impact of Mental Health in Our Society

a mini-documentary by NYC iSchool student Nikki Hatzopoulos  

About this film

People struggling with mental illness have been largely stigmatized throughout history, judged, and treated as inhuman. Many treatment methods for mental illness have been ineffective and harmful. There is much reform needed in the treatment of mental illness. In this documentary, the filmmaker utilizes interviews with students and a social worker to highlight the fact that struggling with mental health is not something that should not be stigmatized. The filmmaker also incorporates information and photos from the Blackwell’s Island Mental Asylum, showing how treatment has evolved over time from something so awful, and still has much to improve.


  • Instagram
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Our world – and especially social media - is full of influencers who seek to impact what we wear, what music we listen to, our politics, how we look, what we buy, and our identity. When it comes to mental health, who are your influencers? Can peers become mental health leaders?

Peer-influencers in mental health recovery pre-date social media influencers by decades.

In Written Off, Phil Yanos, a professor at John Jay College (City University of New York), and a prominent researcher of mental health stigma, discusses the history of peer support programs. Yanos traces the history of “self-help” and “mutual-aid” programs to the 1930s with the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous in the United States for substance abuse recovery. By the 1950s, peer support programs had emerged for mental health with the formation of GROW in Australia

A peer-based approach to mental health services encompasses the interactions, activities, and structures where individuals with lived experience provide support to those in recovery. The shared experiences of living with a mental health condition promote a mutual connection; peer supporters draw upon their own recovery journey to provide an empathetic understanding of common challenges, and through sharing which resources and techniques have helped them, they can model recovery for others. The role of these peer supporters complements the role of therapists and other care providers. They offer social support, practical assistance, and the hope that recovery is possible and maintainable.

What is a peer-based approach?

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Peer-based recovery in New York City

Research cited in Written Off examined a peer-support program at Baltic Street AEH, Inc. in New York City and found that regular program attendees experienced statistically significant benefits. 

Peer-run agencies provide interpersonal support through 1:1 services and an overall sense of camaraderie. Baltic Street is Brooklyn-based, and is one of the largest peer-run agencies in the United States. Baltic Street is committed to providing person-centered, trauma-informed services to those with mental health lived experience. They assist in the provision of housing, employment, and education among the development of other self-help skills that are essential to leading an independent life in the community. Baltic Street operates a Resource and Wellness Center that promotes community inclusion and extends the agency's mission of promoting recovery through creativity, individuality, and empowerment, in addition to interpersonal support. The members of the peer resource team at the Center assist individuals in following their unique paths to recovery without judgment nor expectations, which is a key principle of a peer-based approach to mental health care.

Reevaluating Narratives on Mental Health

a mini-documentary by NYC iSchool students Reham Elfaki & Joy David  

About this film

Mental health is a topic that’s become more prominent recently, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With that being said, there’s a lot of misinformation regarding, not just the mental illnesses themselves, but also the way in which medical professionals treat their patients. There is a vagueness that comes with the term “fixing” someone with a mental illness, versus, finding alternative ways to support them. The United States has a dark past, in terms of stripping patients of their human rights for “the sake of science”. As of today, this dark past continues to affect individuals who suffer from mental illness. Economic and political factors make it increasingly impossible for people to seek help. This short documentary, along with high school students of today, hope to bring awareness and alter the way the media views these individuals in need. Hopefully, we can bring about a new future, where those with mental illnesses get the proper care and respect they’re entitled to as human beings.

NYC iSchool yearbook image designed by Erik Ramirez and used with permission of NYC iSchool

Girl Puzzle installation © Amanda Matthews. Louisville, KY, All rights reserved

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