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Storytelling Event Highlights App Encouraging Discussion Of Mental Illness

Contextual Camouflage
Contextualcamouflage.com categorizes and displays mental health experiences using colors on a heat map across the city of Pittsburgh. Users can submit their responses through Sunday, April 29, 2018.

Even as Jason McKoy struggled with mental illness, he understood that the disease was invisible, and that he shouldn’t talk about it. He called this phenomenon “contextual camouflage.”

“I felt like I was camouflaging my true feelings,” he said. “That’s what a lot of people with mental-health disorders have to do. … We have to walk around camouflaging.”

McKoy is a Pittsburgh-based creative consultant. His company, McKoy Creative, worked with partners including the University of Pittsburgh initiative WORDOUT: Community Research Dissemination Challenge to create Contextual Camouflage, a web app that lets people share online their stories of living with mental illness.

Credit Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Writer Amanda Filipelli will share a story about her experience with mental health during Contextual Camouflage's outdoor event Friday, April 27, 2018.

Submissions are color-coded to create a camouflage-patterned “heat map” of central Pittsburgh, so users can see how prevalent various disorders are: blue for depression, yellow for anxiety, green for bipolar disorder, etc. The map, available online through Sunday, is currently displayed on a flat-screen monitor in a colorful storefront on Liberty Avenue, Downtown.

As part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s annual gallery crawl, a storytelling event there aims to further help break the silence, in part to help those living with mental illness to know they are not alone.

One in six adults lives with a mental illness, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. But like McKoy, many struggle in isolation.

Six local storytellers will gather from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday on the sidewalk to share mental health experiences, including Amanda Filippelli, a former counselor who has lived with depression and anxiety.

“It’s difficult for people to admit some of the things they struggle with,” said Filippelli. “They’re scared of judgment, they’re scared of losing their jobs, they’re scared of disappointing their families. I think most of all they’re scared of just not feeling like they’re good enough.”

Filipelli is a writer and writing coach who’s turning her book of poems about living through mental illness, titled Blue Rooms, into a stage play.

“My story is really about, first, my struggles, but then also how I used writing as a coping mechanism to help myself heal and to be a model for other people,” she said.

She said she thinks Contextual Camouflage can help others with similar problems. “I think the importance of [the app] is to give people who aren’t ready to speak out … some kind of voice, and show how many people struggle with mental health issues.”

Contextual Camouflage is located at 807 Liberty Ave. The project’s website provides lists of resources for those seeking help.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm
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