Creativity for a Cause

BrainDance Award projects contribute to the fight against mental health stigma

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

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 Harold Schwartz, MD, psychiatrist-in-chief of the Institute of Living and vice president of behavioral health at Hartford HealthCare.

“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.

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 Godfrey Pearlson, MD, 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 complimentary educational opportunities, including a panel discussion with mental health professionals and a lecture about teen suicide and psychosis from 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 and the IOL.

2018 BrainDance Award Winners


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