Therapies — 18 August 2017

An artist-in-residence program in South Australia that has engaged four artists to work in mental inpatient units around the state is having a positive impact on the recovery of patients.

The program supports mental health patients to explore their personal recovery processes through art, giving them an alternate method of communication and expression.

Inpatient units in Berri, Whyalla, Mount Gambier and Glenside will unveil their artwork this week.

Berri’s artist-in-residence Jamahl Pollard has lived with vision loss since birth, and said he could relate to some of the feelings the people he was mentoring had.

He hopes his art sends a message to people to focus on the abilities people have, rather than their disabilities.

“There are many artists out there living with disabilities and we hide it a little bit because we don’t want the focus to be on our disability all the time,” he said.

A male artist concentrates on painting in his open air studio

Pollard said there had been great progress from everyone involved in the program at the Berri inpatient unit.

“I can see a lot of people getting a lot out of it,” he said.

“It’s amazing to see people in such vulnerable states and seeing them explore themselves through art and actually distracting their thought patterns into creativeness.

“It’s taking that negative and turning it into a positive, which has been absolutely fantastic.”

‘All the voices are not going to get the best of me anymore’

Katy-Anna Cook lives with her family in a small Indigenous community in the Riverland region.

After receiving treatment at the Berri inpatient unit for her schizophrenia, she has returned to the unit for the art program.

She said she would like to be involved in more programs using art because it had taught her how to stabilise her mind.

“I learnt how to put my mind to something that distracts me from listening to silence,” Ms Cook said.

She said she looked to her family for support, but found the program had exposed her to a new method of recovery.

“Just going over the voices I have in my head, my schizophrenia, it’s a bit hard, so doing new things is really challenging for the mind and it helps the mind grow, and it helps me feel better about myself,” she said.

“How you can learn to get from A to B and get out of the zone of being sick and it can help you free your life.

“All the voices are not going to get the best of me anymore because I feel on top of the world.”

Hopes for a permanent program

Country Mental Health Services director Umit Agis hoped the program would help to de-stigmatise mental illness in the community.

“Mental illness is still largely a taboo area in the community, and we hope this project will really help to create a positive debate and awareness around what it is to have mental illness,” he said.

“Research has shown us over the years part of the recovery requires people to be engaged in meaningful activity.”

Mr Agis said there was also research around people being able to tell their story and journey, to assist in the recovery process.

“Over the years we certainly have received a lot of feedback, particularly from our inpatient services that boredom is a key issue,” he said.

“We certainly are hoping for the program to continue in the future.

“We have a commitment for it to continue next year and the patients want to see more of it.”

The program is a partnership between Country Health, SA Mental Health Directorate, the University of South Australia and the South Australian Living Artists (SALA) Festival.

This peice by Brittany Evins  was first seen on ‘ABC News’ August 2017.

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