[CN: mental illness, incl. depression, anxiety and psychosis]
Mental illness is in many ways an illness of isolation. It is scary to think that we are the only ones who truly understand the thoughts, emotional states and experiences of our own mind.It is therefore not surprising that when we find ourselves in a state of psychological distress, this feeling of loneliness is magnified. Anxiety compels us to decline party and dinner invitations; depression prevents us
from getting out of bed in the morning; psychosis alienates us when others do not see or hear the delusions and hallucinations which form our own reality. You cannot see mental illness, neither hear, smell, taste or touch it, and this means that even when those closest to us share experiences similar to our own, our suffering can feel so terrifically lonely.
This is why talking therapies, alongside reaching out to friends and family, are so integral in the treatment of many different mental health conditions. However, experiences so unique, abstract and formidable can often seem indescribable, evading capture in a GP’s quick referral form or in the pages of a CBT journal. This is not, by any means, to discount the immense power and importance of other types of therapy, but sometimes a new language is needed to communicate our own intimate, personal suffering; a language of our own.
Creative expression, whether it be through the medium of art, music, drama or dance, has the potential to communicate our inner psychological state, externalising it and transforming nebulous, shapeless thoughts and feelings into something that can be seen, heard or even enjoyed by those around us. More important than any audience, however, is the way in which we ourselves can reflect upon and digest the work we have created; it can clarify our own understanding of how our minds work, boost our confidence, and even separate our mental health difficulties from our true selves, by externalising destructive thoughts and containing them in say, a painting or a performance.
Most of all, art therapy can be fun, and can bring paints and pastels and pencils of all colours of the rainbow into our lives again, even when we are going through the darkest of times. Art For The Heart, a new OSDC group which ran its first course in Trinity Term, is the first group in Oxford to use visual art and creative expression to start a conversation about mental health. One of the most valuable aspects of the group is that it is open to everyone – (as after all, everyone who has a mind, every human, is affected by mental health) – in the hope that the artistic medium might ignite curiosity in mental health across campus.
The sessions are given a framework by a theme each week, such as ‘Masks and Identity’ or ‘Maps and Journeys’, but members of the groups are always, always free to follow their instincts and use the art materials in whatever way they wish. Art For The Heart will be continuing fortnightly this coming Michaelmas Term, alternating with a new Support And Recovery group, where we will be exploring subjects such as self-esteem, negative thinking patterns and personal goals through a range of group exercises and discussions. Both groups will be held on Tuesday evenings, and I really do hope I will see you there.
Art, photography and image descriptions by Jessie See
Edited by Sam Pugh