Emily Erwin-Frank: Removing the shame from mental illness

By Hywania Thompson

Emily Erwin-Frank, a recent graduate of the UW-Madison School of Social Work, has set out to reduce the stigma of mental illness. ErwinFrank created UpStage Stigma, a show where individuals share stories of mental illness or emotional struggle through various art forms. In the new year she wants to continue to grow the project as well as do more writing and speaking openly about her own experience.

The idea for UpStage Stigma came while Erwin-Frank was an intern with the Program of Assertive Community Treatment, an organization providing care to those living with severe mental illness. “I wanted to create something that enabled people to share in a brave space,” says Erwin-Frank. Clients there inspired her and helped her come to terms with her own struggles.

UW-Madison professor Angela Willits serves as an adviser for UpStage Stigma. “Emily’s creative vision for this event, as well as her courage and commitment to bringing this event to life, is an inspiring example of the magic we can create when we combine activism, art and love,” Willits says.

Erwin-Frank also has a podcast in the works that will feature a different mental health topic each week. Potential collaborators include mental health professionals from the Madison community and the UW-Madison School of Social Work.

Auditions for UpStage Stigma are this month and the show is set for May 17. Find details at upstagestigma.org.

“I am constantly inspired when I dedicate myself to UpStage Stigma and other creative community projects,” she says. “These projects allow me to use my skills, which include envisioning innovative ways to create change.”

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