Healing Mental Illness Through Art

How creative and visual arts can help individuals struggling with mental illness.
(Photo: The Beaver).
Aug 24, 2011

There are times when hurting individuals find solace in destructive coping mechanisms. And then there are times when art, community, or perhaps both, create a path that leads to healing and recovery.

It’s a journey that’s familiar to anyone who has seen the film The Beaver, because it’s the same path that Walter Black (Mel Gibson) travelled.

In recognition of Walter’s journey, Participant Media, TakePart's parent company, worked with To Write Love on Her Arms and Solace Counseling to show what that path to recovery may look like. The two groups talked with Participant about the power of media in their work.

Participant Media: In the MOVE Community Conferences you use a lot of different types of media. Can you explain why?

Aaron Moore: Many studies and recent research suggest that art really engages deeper parts of our emotional selves. That’s one of the reasons they are so impactful. When it’s our hearts and our emotional selves that have been hurt, that is where we need healing. Using film clips, music, art and other forms of media, whether in therapy or in MOVE Conferences, can help us engage our hearts and facilitate an impactful and hopefully healing process.

Participant Media: Have you found that certain types of media work better than others?

Aaron Moore: In my experience, media that is impactful both engages us emotionally, while also teaches us something about ourselves as well as the issue at hand. The opening scene of The Beaver demonstrates this well. It presents a powerfully accurate picture of some of the effects depression can have, both on the individual as well as the family, and it does this in an artistic and engaging way that creates a dynamic impact. That's why I think it's one of the most teachable clips we have been able to use, and one that we've had some of the best responses to.

Participant Media: Do you ever find that certain media doesn’t work to send the message you’re hoping for?

Jamie Tworkowski: Sure. We're constantly keeping an eye on the response we're getting—the comments and traffic after we post something. We've learned lots of lessons over the years and we continue to learn. We post more now than ever before, especially on Twitter, but we still look forward to those moments where we post something that truly connects and speaks to people.

Participant Media: TWLOHA is a particularly tech-savvy nonprofit. Do you have an over-arching strategy that you follow for reaching out to your community online?

Jamie Tworkowski: "Going back to the beginning, we have always tried to communicate in a way that is poetic, honest, relatable and encouraging. We don't use a lot of clinical language. We try to meet people where they are and we try to communicate in a way that is compelling."

Participant Media: What was your initial response when approached by Participant Media to codesign infographics touching upon key issues and experiences pertaining to mental health?

Jessica Haley: When we were approached to do the infographics, we thought it would be a cool challenge for us. It would allow us to reach a different audience, hopefully one that had never heard of TWLOHA. It also helped portray some important statistics that people may not have been aware of before.

Participant Media: What was the most challenging part of cooperating on the design of these three infographics?

Aaron Moore: It was tough to use facts and statistics yet connect them to real people. People that we know. With most infographics, there’s no personal appeal. We wanted to connect the facts of the issues with the realities that they happen within our own communities and daily relationships. There was particular tension with the third infographic, which highlighted two girls having a difficult conversation. We wanted to stay away from dividing the two between “the healthy” and “the sick.” Stigma breaks down community by creating these types of categories, when in reality every one of us has elements of both in our lives and our relationships.

The three infographics featured here celebrate the film, The Beaver, which comes out on DVD on Tuesday August 23.

“It’s not about understanding the issues, it’s about understanding each other”
Infographics inspired by To Write Love on Her Arms and Solace Counseling

Click to on each infographic to view full size, or hover over to see it close up

Aaron Moore is Co-Founder of Solacecounseling.org and a licensed mental health counselor. He is also one of the creators and facilitators of the Move Community Conference, a project of To Write Love on Her Arms.

Jamie Tworkowski is the Founder of To Write Love on Her Arms

Jessica Haley is the Operations Coordinator for To Write Love on Her Arms

All photography by Jess Koehler, design by Andrea Nakhla

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