"Art literally saved my life," Amy Kinney, artist and program director of PeaceLove Studios in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, tells TakePart.
Started by Jeff Sparr, a man struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), PeaceLove Studios is a community of mental health advocates and artists creating conversations of acceptance, understanding and hope.
PeaceLove's programs use creative expression to connect kids, teens and adults affected by mental illness. The process helps break down stigmas associated with disorders like OCD, depression and schizophrenia.
In the U.S. alone, one in four adults suffers from a diagnosable mental illness. As Jeff says, "There is no yellow bracelet, no pink ribbon and no (RED) campaign for the millions of people and their families suffering like myself."
Setting out to change this, Jeff created PeaceLove, and also the iconic heart and peace-sign symbol. The symbol has come to represent hope and acceptance for people making sense of mental illness.
Amy Kinney struggled with depression, anxiety and eating disorders much of her life.
PeaceLove, she says, allowed her to "grow both as an individual and an artist and facilitate that for other people."
Amy had difficulty talking openly about the disorders she was suffering from before finding PeaceLove.
After being hospitalized for a mental breakdown, she went back to her job at the time and felt the stigma.
Talking with people about mental illness and asking others for support is not always "an acceptable thing," she says.
"People are scared to say it, and people are scared to hear it," she adds. "When you say it, people sometimes shut down and look away. They aren't there to quickly jump up and give support—because it's stigmatized."
Breaking down this barrier has not been easy, but PeaceLove Studios is moving society closer toward understanding and acceptance.
PeaceLove Studios as Amy says, is a place where people "feel comfortable, feel like they finally fit in and can be who they are."
Its programs have helped many kids and adults heal through art, and PeaceLove plans to aid many more in years to come.
Don't believe in the power of art? Prepare to be convinced by this video of PeaceLove Studios at an Art Jam they put on with the Rhode Island School of Design.