Spotlight on Bella Roberts

Meet Bella Roberts: Founder of nonprofit Art to Reduce Mental Health Stigma and author, Bella is inspiring discussions of mental health and expression of self.

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Tell us about ARMS!

Art to Reduce Mental Health Stigma (ARMS) is a Rhode Island based nonprofit that seeks to end the stigma surrounding mental illness through art as a forum for self-expression, healing, and dialogue.

We do this through an online and mobile platform that connects local artists with the resources to host their own art events and workshops. With a wide variety of events for everyone, from spoken word poetry to music to painting, ARMS creates a space for individuals with mental illness to develop new work, share their experiences, and expand their audience.

By welcoming community members to engage with art and discussions of mental health, we hope to generate both individual and institutional progress in destigmatizing mental illness.

What is the best piece of personal advice you’ve ever received? How about advice you’ve given?

The best piece of entrepreneurial advice I have ever received is from Jason Harry, one of my mentors at Brown University and it is about accepting advice itself. He told me to take every piece of advice as a data point, and then after considering all of the data points, to make my own decision. This has completely changed how I make both personal and company decisions. Overall, the Breakthrough Lab program at Brown was the best decision I've ever made for my entrepreneurial journey.

The best advice I have ever given is a line from my book, "Hello. I Am Going Back to Bed. Good Morning." I write, "If I say, 'tell me about the dark days,' do not turn the lights on. I will hold you anyway and listen." My mission is to help everyone have difficult conversations about mental health, and be there to listen productively.

What was your most life-changing experience?

When I was 18 I lost numerous friends to suicide in just one year. Yet somehow no one in my community spoke up about it. Mental illness was still only spoken about in hushed tones behind closed doors. I was devastated, but myself did not know how to begin to have conversations about mental health.

That all began to change with one open mic. On a whim, she found herself standing at an open mic at AS220 sharing her story through poetry. The feeling of sharing her mental health journey through art not only empowered her but allowed community members to engage in a difficult conversation through the tool of art, making the subject reachable; accessible and attractive.

With the help of countless dedicated volunteers, she started hosting events all over Rhode Island to give people the same feeling she had; the same opportunity to use art as a tool to tell their stories and to really listen, to bridge understanding between those who experience mental illness, and those who have never spoken it before.

This experience inspired the creation of Art to Reduce Mental Health Stigma (ARMS).

Idol: My grandma! She has the most energy and optimism I've ever seen.
Best trip you ever took: Working as a travel journalist in Southeast Asia.
Sunday afternoon nirvana:
Tea, a poetry book, and an inky pen to take notes!

Alex Gordon