.Art of Mind – Youth Arts Fest for Mental Health

It seems we’re experiencing perpetually unprecedented times.
Though we’re all feeling the impact, our youth—and especially teenagers—face a particularly acute set of challenges.

The pandemic stripped teens of their connection, shutting down schools and cutting kids off from their social network. That is unless they engaged online, which, though they, like the rest of us, inevitably did, is proven to cause detachment and depression. In a CNN online article from April 29, Jenna Glover, a child clinical psychologist and director of psychology training at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said this about the circumstances of the pandemic:

“The disruption to routines and consistency is very damaging for a child’s mental health. They thrive on predictability, which has been absent for over a year.”

To this end, in response to the growing need and in honor of May, Mental Health Awareness Month, the Marin Suicide Prevention Collaborative’s Youth Action Team is hosting the May Mental Health Month Youth Art Showcase on May 12.

Marin Suicide Prevention Collaborative (MSPC) was launched in 2020, following the approval of the first ever county suicide prevention strategic plan in February of the same year. The team is dedicated to providing ongoing, culturally and linguistically appropriate support to the community of Marin County, ensuring that all struggling with mental health are aware of their options and the support around them.

MSPC is working in collaboration with the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Cultural Services and the Marin County Office of Education to plan and implement this event, which invited youth to submit their art for showcasing. Marin youth were encouraged to create and submit art that reflects hopeful messages based on their perspectives and experiences with mental health.

Art of many forms was accepted, including photography, painting, digital art, storytelling, poetry, dance, music and video. In their creation of art, youth were asked to share current life or community experiences that deliver hope or encourage young people to take a stand against injustice.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this important program, as the arts are such a crucial part of our lives, especially when it comes to mental health,” said director of cultural services Gabriella Calicchio. “The arts allow space for social connection, empathy, understanding and release, especially at a time when so many of us are feeling isolated and alone.”

Not only does this show provide a space for youth to express themselves in a way they might feel unable to do without the channel of art, in its myriad forms, it’s an opportunity for them to reconnect with one another, slowly beginning to bridge the gap created by the last two years of Covid. It’s also a chance for Youth Action Team members to help their peers open up a supportive dialogue around mental health without fear of judgment or stigma.

“The Youth Action Team members are in a perfect position to positively influence their friends and peers around these important topics,” said senior program coordinator Kara Connors. “We know that youth often talk with peers about their personal struggles, even before talking to an adult. Every young person can be equipped to help one another by directing them to resources and information to get help. The Youth Art and Film Showcase will connect youth, build their confidence as helpers, and create social change and norms through their art.”

One Tawny Strotz, a junior at Redwood High School, felt just this opportunity presented itself in joining the Youth Action Team, and providing a safe youth-to-youth space for connection and support through the current mental health challenges.

“I feel strong as part of a community like the Youth Action Team, that is motivated by change and action to bring attention to the important issue of mental health,” Strotz said. “I know that some of my friends have had their fair share of mental health struggles, and just having a chance to be open about it helps to normalize the conversation so we can help each other. I’m happiest when I know I can help my friends, which we will do through the showcase by bringing attention to mental health and giving students an opportunity to have their work appreciated.”

Artwork was provided by Nancy Vernon and is titled “You Are Not Alone.” The Youth Art Showcase will be held May 12 from 5-7pm at the Marin County Office of Education. For more information, visit www.marincounty.org.

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