Outlets: Creative Types and Mental Health

Every year, nearly 1 in 5 American adults across all walks of life deal with mental health issues. Of those that are able and choose to seek out help (roughly 40 percent), some participate in traditional psychotherapy, some engage in art therapy, and others go on medications to help regulate their conditions.

Still, some people find that they need even more outlets for their mental health conditions:

“If you don’t have more than one outlet, it’s gonna let you down. Because somehow you’re not going to be able to go get to it, if you’re off your meds you’re not going to have anyone to talk to. One outlet is so limiting, and the more outlets you have and the more coping methods you give yourself, the better you’ll deal with yourself,” said Doug Green, a Kent-based visual artist and former musician. Green said he specifically deals with anxiety and depression, as well as anger issues.

Though Green no longer sees a therapist, he takes anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications and explores his mental illnesses through his creative projects.

Doug Green bends over his block prints.

“This series that I can’t stop drawing is just people falling, and when you see it, it’s like: ‘Oh, that’s so funny and whimsical’ but it’s really darker. It’s kind of like mixing satire with negative feelings to lighten the mood — that’s what comics do for me,” Green said. His comics and illustrations will be featured in his forthcoming zine project, “For Myself” which includes a number of larger prints and t-shirt designs.

Doug Green’s plaster blocks for the block printing of his zine, “For Myself”

Rachel Boggess, a Music Therapy student at Berklee College of Music, tells her story in the podcast below:

Boggess makes note of the distinction between music therapy and music medicine. She said that music therapy is clinical and evidence-based, while music medicine lacks formal procedures.

So, though music and art may be therapeutic to someone dealing with mental illness, they may not be going through bona-fide music therapy.

Boggess also stresses, regardless of the level of formality, that any kind of therapy is all about the process:

“I think a lot of musicians and artists focus a lot on the final product, whereas you have to focus more on the process that gets you to the product. For me, it relieves some of the stress and anxiety about ‘I gotta get this product out’ and worrying what other people think about it.”

Similarly, visual and installation artist Aubrey Theobald recognizes the power of the process.

“Making sure the process is founded in your own needs as a human, making sure it heals some shit or serves you in some way is definitely appropriate,” said Theobald. Her work often involves repetitive handwork, making hundreds of smaller objects to compose a larger work.

One of Theobald’s in-progress works, Mending Tiles, is comprised of over 800 tiles representing her dermatillomania, a condition where she constantly picks at her skin out of anxiety. She said the found the process of laying out the tiles and dropping liquid on each one soothing. Theobald said she thinks that this repetitive, “conveyor belt” method of art is a manifestation of some of the anxiety associated with her condition.

“Mending Tiles” by Aubrey Theobald, courtesy of the artist.

Though Dominic Dulin is involved in a number of artistic and musical projects, he finds his visual art and and poetry are the most visceral.

Dominic Dulin works on one of his artworks, made of found materials.

“I try to create messages through that to speak to people about … stuff that sucks, I guess,” Dulin said, laughing. Dulin deals with anxiety and depression, but combines his making of art with some medications and traditional therapy.

“It seems like people who are creative can be very independent, but when it comes to mental health, you don’t want to be by yourself. The self gets abstract. It gets imprisoning to deal with it all on your own. Reaching out to people definitely helps, whether it’s counseling or your friends,” Dulin said. This was a common thread among all artists interviewed for this project — art won’t save your life or cure your mental health issues, but it can help as a component of your overall treatment.

“You can only do so much and the people around you can only do so much, so talking to someone who’s gone to school for psychology or therapy, they’ll be able to help you.”