Art and Mental Illness

Joey 05

A disease or an illness inside the body typically manifests in physical symptoms. However, with mental health illness, the signs are not always visible to the individual affected or to those around them. Just as there are many different physical illnesses, there are also many different types of mental illness – examples include depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder. Because they are often “unseen” and misunderstood, many individuals live silently with the burden of a mental illness. May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, a time when we shine a light on this issue in an effort to lessen the stigma and create a more inclusive environment.

People see the world through the filter of their life-lens. Individuals with a mental illness can view life differently than others. Many believe this different way of viewing the world contributed to the brilliance of some of the world’s greatest artists and thinkers, such as Vincent van Gogh, famous painter, and John Nash, mathematician (portrayed in the film “A Beautiful Mind”). Both of these men were afflicted with mental illness.

Today, there is an art movement known as “Outsider Art,” which is a label used to describe art done by those outside the boundaries of the mainstream art scene, including individuals who are institutionalized. Frequently, outsider art provides a glimpse into the mind of the creator; it illustrates unconventional ideas or elaborate fantasy worlds.

PRIDE Industries has our own artist in training, William “Joey” Guevara, 28. Joey is a Hand Packager at PRIDE South Sacramento and lives with mental illness. This young man’s talents began with doodles as a toddler. He draws at every opportunity, including during breaks and lunchtime when at work. His talent helps him to communicate with others. At PRIDE, his art has helped him make friends, communicate better with staff, and has provided a platform for lessons in appropriate on-the-job behavior. “Joey draws things the way he sees them,” says Cinda Smith, Joey’s former Job Trainer. She notes that sometimes, “he needed to be reminded that although his drawings are spot-on for the individual, it may hurt their feelings.”

At PRIDE South Sacramento, Joey has created many works for Cinda. He also drew a self-portrait of each staff member that adorns the walls of their workspace. Joey’s drawings are displayed throughout the South Sacramento site. One of his larger pieces, a framed group sketch of the entire site staff, hangs in the lobby. View a few of Joey’s drawings in the gallery below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By expressing himself through art, Joey has become a better self-advocate. He is more open to social interaction with co-workers, communicates better with others, and his personal appearance has greatly improved. Improvements are also visible outside of work; he now takes walks around his neighborhood and to the grocery store unaccompanied. Joey is making an effort to be more self-sufficient and independent including learning to cook! Joey is humble about these changes; he simply refers to them as, “coming out of his cocoon and growing up.”

We are so proud of his progress and wish him much more success. Great job, Joey!

Mental illness can be devastating, but research shows that people who receive proper medication, support and learn to manage their symptoms can lead a rewarding life. A recent study by Elyn R. Saks, a law professor at University of Southern California and the author of the memoir “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness,” suggests that work plays an important role in helping individuals with mental illness manage their symptoms. It’s a fascinating read. You’ll find it here.

3 thoughts on “Art and Mental Illness

  1. Pingback: Artist Profile: Laura San Miguel – PRIDE Industries

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s