Community Mental Health Advocacy may take on many different forms. For some, it may involve working within public school systems, community mental health centers, prisons, and state psychiatric hospitals to address patients’ needs and improve labor conditions for health care providers. For others, it may mean driving out Austin to talk with state representatives about issues that impact patients and their family members. However, advocacy may also involve creating new ways of thinking and talking about mental health and putting them into practice in unexpected ways. It is the latter approach that I’ll highlight today.
In Houston, we can see a number of innovative projects tackle mental health issues from unique perspectives. For Honors students at the University of Houston, creative approaches to mental health involve “Harry Potter-themed yoga, guided painting sessions, and open mics.” In February 2019, the small business Paraspace teamed up with the art gallery Diverseworks to host an event about the intersection of climate change and mental health, of which I had the honor of participating. Still other Houstonians are dancing their way to improved mental health and stronger community connection.
Across the United States, diverse communities are reframing the conversation about mental health far beyond issues related to stigma or access to mental health care (although these topics are still of great relevance). In 2017, the Asian American Literary Review released a special issue on Asian American Mental Health, which centered the experiences of those who have felt the effects of immigration, assimilation, and racism and created links between personal feelings and political issues that are shared among Asian Americans. Documentaries like CrazyWise and Crooked Beauty offer intimate portrayals of people who have come to understand moments of mental distress in terms of transformation, reflection, and growth. Online communities such as The Icarus Project and Hearing Voices Network host events and create social networks for those who are curious about exploring generative ways to make meaning from and come to terms with challenging mental states. These are just a few examples of how creative expression can shift conversations about community mental health.
On a personal note, I have found that art and creative expression of all types can be a great way to make fond memories with loved ones who are in the midst of intense mental struggles. And even in the most challenging of times, working on small projects together— from carving pumpkins and photography, to meditation and cooking together — can bring about small shifts for the better, however brief they may be in nature. For these reasons, I hope that continuing to think more creatively about community mental health can help us care for ourselves and for each other in inventive and compassionate ways.