Art offers outlet to mentally ill

Especially at this time of year, it can ‘go a long way to calming the turbulence.’

The Christmas season is not always merry for everyone. In fact, it’s often a “rough time of year” for people with mental health challenges, says Dan Lenart. “One of the main things is family issues, whether they’re non-existent or non-functional, so times of year like this” when many others are “visiting their parents, it’s an extra burden and sometimes people just can’t hack it and they have to go back to the hospital.”

Because family background is often connected to mental health, family gatherings “can open up old wounds.” Lenart doesn’t use terms such as psychiatric disability or mental illness in describing himself or others. Instead, he prefers “emotional problems. “We all have emotional problems. Not all of us have to be hospitalized for them, but some do. . . . I’m not a big fan of the science of psychiatry, so I try to stay away from their terminology as much as possible.” Yet, Lenart proudly wears a white T-shirt with Mental Patient in black letters. “It’s my attempt to grab the stigma by the horn,” he says. “In the media, the portrayal of people in the psychiatric community are usually negative,” with reports of murders and suicides, creating the “myth of the dangerous mental patient out there in the community.”

Lenart, an art co-ordinator at City Art Centre, stresses this is a “a very small segment of the psychiatric community.” But, common public perceptions contribute to the isolation felt by individuals with mental illnesses year-round and especially during the so-called festive season. Plus, “If you’re already struggling with your own issues, then you can’t turn on the switch and say ‘OK, I’m going to be happy,’ ” says Lenart.

Lenart and the other three art co-ordinators will keep City Art Centre open to participants during regular hours Monday to Friday both this week and next week (including on Boxing Day). The centre provides a creative outlet to mental health consumers for “some of these things that are inside yourself that you can’t necessarily put words to.

“With art, there is a whole other avenue for expression, whether it’s colours or styles of art or textures or whatever. . . . Sometimes, just bringing it out of yourself onto something like a canvas or masonite board can go a long way in calming the turbulence. “I think it’s very therapeutic for that reason. Creativity is very important. . . . The nice thing with art is there’s a lot of freedom.”

With no art therapist on staff, City Art Centre’s focus is on self-directed art therapy. The centre provides art supplies and 12 work stations in a studio for individuals with any level of artistic abilities. A kitchen, lounge, gallery and simple contact with others create fellowship and camaraderie. The consistent and steady hours over the holiday period provide stability and balance for participants.

“If you don’t have these social networks or family structures in place, then you’re more and more isolated as it gets closer and closer to Christmas,” says Lenart. “We are providing a need for these people and giving them a place to go.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION Contact: City Art Centre, 433-0991

Title: Art offers outlet to mentally ill – London Free Press
Source: London Free Press
Publication Date: December 19, 2005

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