by Lila Bennett for Northeast Kingdom Human Services

It is entirely possible to be well, to be happy and to experience a good life, after struggling with or receiving a diagnosis of a mental illness.  It is also being discovered that connection, respect, and support play one of the largest roles in wellbeing. This is the message that Northeast Kingdom Human Services is sending to their community by hosting the 99 Faces Project at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH) in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

The ’99 Faces Project’ is a powerful art exhibit that shows what recovery and treatment of mental illness can look like. Lynda Cutrell, artist of the 99 Faces project, conceived of the idea after a family member was diagnosed with a mental illness.

The project was her outlet for understanding and acceptance. During the process she discovered how getting help, support, love and connection directly improves a person’s well-being and their ability to contribute to society and lead a happy life.

Faces of Recovery

Visitors line up at Northern Vermont Regional Hospital to see the exhibit. ’99 Faces’ will be on display until March 6.

Bright faces shine out from the walls of the hospital, smiling.  Some are portraits of just one person, some are portraits of people embracing, supporting each other in being healthy and well.

At first glance it might not occur to an onlooker that many of the people looking out from the photographs are people who have surmounted incredible, invisible obstacles. Invisible obstacles of the mind.

Included on the walls of the exhibit are published authors, doctors, actors, mothers, veterans and even firefighters.  Their diversity reminds the viewer that mental illness affects people from all walks of life and that with support these individuals can still achieve incredible things.

Looking at the photos, it isn’t apparent who on the wall has a diagnosis and who is a supporting person.  That is an important and impactful part of the story.

The son of Kurt Vonnegut, the esteemed author of “Slaughterhouse Five” and many other books, was diagnosed with a severe and persistent mental illness yet went on to be a sought-after pediatrician.  He is pictured with his wife on the wall, and you would never know from that one snapshot all that he has had to overcome to be who his has become.

Glenn Close and her family grace the walls, further showing that incredible people manage to live in health, love, happiness and success, when supported in their diagnosis.

99 Faces tells the story that all people, whether diagnosed or not, whether diagnosed with an extreme and severe mental illness or not, all people have to face their own individual challenges and be willing to ask for and receive help in order to succeed.

Changing Norms

Taking care of our mental health as a normal, everyday practice for everyone is a relatively new concept here in the United States, but it is gaining traction.  The narrative that taking care of your mental health is a sign of weakness is a stigma that is finally beginning to break.

Northeast Kingdom Human Services is looking at the roots of why people struggle with mental health, what are the best avenues for treatment, and how to provide the best access to care.  Mental Illness is not always preventable, but there are many pathways to recovery.

As Dr. Stephen R. Marder from the Semel Institute for Neuroscience at UCLA states,

“We know to a large extent that recovery from mental illness is often limited by people’s perception. The connections with family and community is perhaps the most healing force in recovery. We, in the psychiatric community, strongly believe that family involvement and connections in recovery is essential. Recently we did a study of individuals that experienced significant recovery, not one person referenced their psychiatrist, but all acknowledged their love, acceptance and support of their close relationships.”

By partnering with other organizations such as the 99 Faces Project and NVRH, NKHS hopes to show that not only do families need to support each other in recovery but that organizations and communities need to work together for the strongest possible care as well.  It takes intentional effort and mindful collaboration to provide the most cutting-edge therapy and create streamlined and innovative pathways to care.

Marcia Stricker, Chief of Clinical Operations at NKHS sums it up best by saying,

“At NKHS, we believe in treating the whole person and offering services to match individual needs as challenges come up.  As providers, we recognize that people are not identified by their diagnoses.  No individual is schizophrenic or an alcoholic, they are individuals with symptoms of schizophrenia or challenged by substance use, or symptoms of psychosis or mania, and those symptoms are interfering with that person’s ability to navigate their lives and recovery.  Once symptoms are more stable, the individual can re-engage in life as defined by them.”

The ’99 Faces’ exhibit is on display at NVRH in their gallery and is open to the public until March 6.  There will be a closing symposium on March 6 from 4pm – 6pm.

For more information about Northeast Kingdom Human Services visit our website at or call 24/7 at (802) 334-6744.