The Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness & Healing Through Artistic Expression

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Not everyone knows what it’s like to be depressed, or have a mental illness that affects their lives in a negative way. However, everyone will have indirectly been affected by mental illness, and at least one in five Canadians will have experienced mental illness at some point in their lifetime 1. Even so, mental illness is still often depicted negatively, creating an unsafe and alienating environment for those suffering. Not only are people discouraged from seeking help, but their lives are made more difficult due to the attitudes of the people surrounding them. I believe this is due to a lack of information on mental illness.

Even though this is such a widespread issue, people are rarely educated on types of mental illness, what the causes are, and the different healing processes and methods available. Depression is often seen as a ‘negative attitude’, or something that can be easily resolved through exercise, or simply ‘being happy’. In reality, although depression can often be linked to environmental circumstances, there are also physical factors that can play a very large role in a person’s mental health. In addition, one must account for differences among people, as not all individuals can be diagnosed in the same way. Although this is a fairly basic example, it goes to show how many obstacles there are in the way of truly understanding mental illness, as well as educating people on the truth about mental illness. There are many different approaches to combating mental illness, or alternately, to maintaining a psychologically healthy state of mind.

Artistic expression, in fact, has been shown to combat depression 2. I’m not saying that artistic expression cures mental illness, but in many cases it does have a positive effect. From personal experience, I know that being able to draw, or play music, or write creatively has allowed me to externalize a lot of what I feel. In doing so I have been able to better understand the things that are detrimental to my mental health, and so heal. As a Psychology student and artist, Piece of Mind provided the perfect opportunity to link the concept of what psychological health means with artistic expression. The concept behind the Piece of Mind exhibition intrigued me because in addition to the somewhat psychologically themed artwork, artists were asked to write a small paragraph about “what psychological health means to you”.

Again, I view creating art is a coping mechanism as well as a pleasurable activity. Producing art, whether it’s a quick sketch or a painstakingly painted portrait, allows me to focus my negative energy and emotions into creating something that later also brings me pride and happiness. I believe that if people were made more aware of the truth behind what mental illness is, and what psychological health means, an important outlet might be found within artistic expression.

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1 “Fast Facts About Mental Illness,” Canadian Mental Health Association, http://www.cmha.ca/ media/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/#.U-hfTlbSLRp

2 Traci Pedersen, “Art, Music & Dance Can Help Ease Anxiety, Depression in Cancer Patients,” PsychCentral, May 18, 2013, http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/05/19/art-music-dance canhelp-ease-anxiety-depression-in-cancer-patients/54976.html

Nina Cheb-Terrab
August 7th, 2014

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