New Bushwick Murals Send a Powerful Message About Mental Health Awareness

Anna van der Heijden

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“You Are Not Alone,” radiates in yellow, black and grey letters off of several walls in Bushwick and Greenpoint for Mental Health Month. Mental Health America dubbed May the month to encourage organizations to raise awareness on mental health issues. That is exactly what this mural project aims to do.

Long-time friends Samantha Schutz—a writer and mental health advocate—and Annica Lydenberg—a mural painter and designer—are the brains behind the murals. The paintings are inspired by Schutz’ You Make Me Feel Less Alone project, which is an online space where she collects and shares other peoples’ stories on mental health and excerpts from her book. The supportive online community creates a space for those struggling, helping them feel less isolated.

Lydenberg was helping Schutz with branding work for the project, and realized that she wanted to do more to help spread the message. The best way she knew how to was by painting murals.

“For me the idea of creating art in a public space is really important,” said Lydenberg. “Murals belong to everyone that lives in a neighborhood. They belong to everyone that walks by and sees them.”

Annica Lydenberg and Samantha Schutz. Photo by Jackson Cook.

The phrase is something that Schutz has heard a lot. In 2006, she published a successful memoir—“I Don’t Want To Be Crazy”—about her struggles with anxiety disorder. For years she received letters from readers that often mentioned the same thing: “Your book made me feel less alone.”

“It was so powerful to hear that,” said Schutz, “so I wanted to be able to spread that message more.”

The message is not just aimed at people struggling with mental health issues, it’s for everyone who feels, as Schutz and Lydenberg put it, “abandoned, victimized or misunderstood.” Everyone goes through stuff. The project’s hope is that reading this message let’s people know that there are others who stand with them.

“I’ve gotten a lot of my understanding about what it means to struggle with mental health issues through my years of friendship with Sam. So for me it’s really important to identify as an ally,” said Lydenberg.

Mural on 109 Wilson Avenue, Bushwick, by Jason Naylor. Photo by Annica Lydenberg.

Schutz heard the message over and over again, and it helped her to know that she wasn’t alone. Now, she wants to return the favor and repeat the message throughout the city to ensure as many people as possible will read it. You can find the murals in Bushwick at 75 Scott Avenue and 109 Wilson Avenue, and in Greenpoint at 402 McGuinness Boulevard.

Between the multiple murals there is unity and diversity. The murals all look similar at first glance: the phrase is the same and they’re all painted with black, grey and yellow, which was inspired by the cover of Schutz’ book.

“To me, yellow means quite a few different things that are often opposing,” Schutz said. “It’s this weird mix of friendliness and brightness, but also danger and caution.”

She continues, “When Annica painted the first mural, the day was really grey and cloudy. By the time they finished, it was kind of sad outside. But the yellow was glowing.”

At closer examination, a passer-by will notice that all murals have their own character and style. Just like all of our problems are different, the murals are, too. Which is why the artists involved brought their own style to the project.

“I liked the way the long skinny letters have a tall, sort of figure-like presence,” said Lydenberg about her piece. “Adam Fu’s go-to style is neon lettering, which works so, so well for this. And stylistically, Jason Naylor is really diverse, even within his pieces, so that also felt like it was going to be a good fit. The three of us don’t do similar things, so it was nice to have that range.”

For now, the pair wanted to get the murals up before Mental Health Month, so any wall they could get was good enough. In the future they want to focus on locations where they think the message will have most impact, like hospitals, clinics and high schools.

Cover image: Mural at 75 Scott Avenue, by Adam Fu. Photo by Graham Burns.

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