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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 6/22/2012

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


The Awakenings Project
Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Start Date

Brief Description
The Awakenings Project (Awakenings) is a grass-roots initiative run by and for artists with mental illnesses. It began in 1996 as an art exhibit in which individuals with mental illnesses could display their art work. Since then, it has steadily grown to include many art forms. Awakenings raises public awareness of the important contributions that individuals with mental illnesses make to the larger community. It also helps people with mental illnesses to develop and enhance their creativity.

Many people living with mental illnesses also are forced to live with stigma and discrimination. They may feel that society views them differently and that they are not seen as valuable, contributing members of their communities. Art has the power to change perceptions. The understanding and acceptance of people with mental illnesses can be raised through art projects like Awakenings. Research also shows that creative expression may help people with mental illnesses in other ways. The American Art Therapy Association says, The creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.

Awakenings enables and empowers individuals with mental illnesses by helping them to develop their chosen craft. Awakenings offers opportunities for expression in many different art formsvisual arts (art exhibits), literary arts (The Awakenings Review), music (performances and jam sessions), and dramatic arts (readings and publication of short plays). All forms of creative expression are exhibited in the Awakenings gallery and studio. Currently, approximately 30 artists work closely with the project.

The Awakenings Review (AR), mentioned above, is another outlet for creative expression. The publication accepts writings by individuals with mental illnesses, family members, friends, and professionals who have experience with mental illness. Submissions for inclusion in AR have been received from around the United States and other foreign countries. Awakenings staff members also have developed a manual that may be used as a model for the creation of similar projects.

Since 1996, Awakenings has demonstrated how individuals with mental illnesses can create art exhibits, literary arts journals, music, and theatrical events. Exhibitions have been shown in numerous venues including local community, county, and State agencies and facilities, National Alliance on Mental Illness NAMI) Illinois, and the NAMI National Convention. The artists work and Awakenings have received local and national media coverage, including written accolades in the Journal of the American Medical Association and Reintegration Today. Furthermore, Schizophrenia Bulletin and The Israeli Journal of Psychiatry have identified the AR as a useful therapeutic tool.

By sharing the creative work of individuals with mental illnesses, Awakenings helps to counter stigma and discrimination. It also has facilitated the recovery process of individuals and their families. Artists who have worked with Awakenings have expressed joy and appreciation for the freedom to express themselves safely and without judgment.

For further information about Awakenings, you may access the project Web site at or contact Irene ONeill, President, Board of Directors, at P.O. Box 177, Wheaton, IL 60187; e-mail:

You also may contact Robert Lundin, Director of The Awakenings Review, at

Additionally, Awakenings often hosts events. You may access a complete list of these events at


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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.