OPINION: Art can transform the architecture of the mind

by | Feb 18, 2020 | A&E, Opinion

Abhinav Mendhe, A&E Editor

The student population in Canada is vulnerable to mental illnesses.

A shocking 3.2 million youths aged between 12 and 19 are living with, or at risk, of developing depression, with only one out of five students receiving mental health services, a Youth Mental Health Canada report said. It also notes there are an average 11 suicides a day, with it accounting for 24 per cent of the deaths among 15- and 24-year-olds.

More than 5,800 students have committed suicide in the past 13 years, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

These statistics are concerning and there are no simple answers to solving the issues.

When access to mental health services is limited, one of the ways to deal with mental health is getting in touch with art. Whether creating it or simply enjoying another’s creation, connecting oneself with art helps in tending issues, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anger disorder.

A study conducted by the American journal Art Therapy suggests cortisol generated by the adrenal glands controls the mood, motivation and fear in a person. Cortisol is a steroid hormone generated by the adrenal glands which sit on top of kidneys. It is the body’s main stress hormone best known for producing the “flight or fight” response.

A rise in cortisol levels leads to stress, anxiety and depression.

The study engaged 40 adults in a 45-minute art-making session. The candidates’ saliva was tested to assess the cortisol levels both before and after the session.

The study reported 75 per cent of candidates had lower cortisol levels after the art session.

Social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, a champion for art therapy, has done extensive research showing the arts are uniquely capable of enhancing positive emotions. And that is something Humber College should consider as it develops mandatory classes across all of its programs.

Humber offers extensive frontline services for mental health care. But a little preventative art therapy can go a long way in helping.

When I was suffering from depression due to the loss of my closest friend, reading books helped me battle my way through it.

Another friend turned to art to help him through the tough periods in his life.

“I am bisexual, being myself in public sometimes becomes a burden for me,” my friend Vishal Singh told me.

“Drawing mandala art (magic circles) helps me in managing my depression. On really bad days, it’s the only thing that saves me.”

Art is not limited to creating paintings and reading books. Listening to your favourite music, doodling on the last page of your book, or just watching a movie also helps.

Active participation in the arts replaces stressful thinking by employing a large part of the brain which brings mindful presence and focus, and art helps with the healing of the mind, said Ping Ho, the founder and director of UCLArts and Healing.

When access to mental health services is limited or when students are unwilling to use mental health services, participation in creative practices can help.

Although Humber College provides many avenues for students to be involved with some form of art, with the burden of college work, many choose not to participate. By making an art course compulsory in the curriculum with the intention of enhancing the students’ mental health would be a good preventative measure in helping students deal with mental health issues.