The Art of Mental Health

art

Sigmund Freud is purported to have said, “Everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me.” Not every nursing speciality has this advantage of being informed and sustained by artists. Can those of us interested in supporting mental health consumers and carers look to art to improve our understanding and empathy of the experiences of others? 

I have created a Prezi as a seed for others to use art as an adjunct to our other sources of learning (courses, colleagues, peer-reviewed journals, text books etc). Please see the Prezi by following the link here.

The examples I have collated in the Prezi are listed below, and credit is given to the sources that were used in the Prezi.

Veronica by Elvis Costello is a beautiful song and film clip, that improves our understanding and empathy of nursing the person with dementia. The YouTube video is here: youtu.be/zifeVbK8b-g The lyrics were sourced from this website: www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/elviscostello/veronica.html I’ve written about this previously: meta4RN.com/dementia and have self-plagarised. Again. 

Dog by Andy Bull (with vocal support from Lisa Mitchell) is a fantastic song that captures some of the difficulties of the experience of depression. In the Prezi I used this YouTube link youtu.be/bBOe660BYjI and the lyrics were sourced via www.songlyrics.com/andy-bull/dog-lyrics

Dog is a poignant, wonderful song. Listen to it here:

I had a black dog, his name was depression is written, illustrated and narrated by Matthew Johnstone. It is a very accessible way think about depression and would resonate with a broad age group, I think. Here is the YouTube video used in the Prezi:

To improve understanding and empathy for the family/carers of those who experience schizophrenia I use a song called Neighbourhoods #2 (Laika). This takes a bit of explanation. First though, lets get the credits out of the way. The lyrics were sourced here: www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/arcadefire/neighborhood2laika.html The YouTube video linked in the Prezi is from here: youtu.be/8Wq917ucGaE

Laika - First dog in Space by Belgian artist Paul Gosselin. Source: http://cultured.com/image/4063/Laika_First_dog_in_Space/#fav

“Laika – First Dog in Space” by Belgian artist Paul Gosselin. Source: http://cultured.com/image/4063/Laika_First_dog_in_Space/#fav

Laika by Arcade Fire may not have been written about mental illness at all. However, as with all art, interpretation is an individual experience. I have had a few years experience as a community mental health nurse. In that role I provided direct care and support to the person experiencing mental health problems (nearly all of my clients at the time had schizophrenia) and, when family were still around, support for them too.

Much of the word imagery of Laika fits with that experience. Carers often described their frustration at the lack of insight and empathy that their family member seemed to have. Carers would oscillate between deep concern and desperate frustration about their family member. More than a few times carers expressed a nihilistic outlook – an almost complete lack of hope. The line “Our mother should’ve just named you Laika” expresses that poignantly: Laika was the name of a stray dog in Moscow who became the first living creature to orbit earth. She was never expected to return to earth safely, and died a few hours after launch. Families I have worked with have, at times, expressed that level of despair about their family member.

I also like how Laika’s story has been taken-up by the art community. I love the Arcade Fire song, and my favourite visual representation of Laika – First Dog in Space is the painting above by Belgian artist Paul Gosselin.

The last piece of art I used in the Prezi was The Scream by Edvard Munch. The source of the picture is here: www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/munch.scream.jpg I’ve read that this picture has been associated with other health problems including  trigeminal neuralgia, psychosis and depersonalisation. To my eye, The Scream looks like acute anxiety and/or a panic attack. It serves as a graphic visual reminder that the first step is to assist the person to contain their distress, to be and feel safe. It shows distress that must feel overwhelming and rallies us to help: let’s think “safety first” kids.

So, that’s it for this little weekend project: if you haven’t visited the Prezi yet please do so now: The Art of Mental Health

What songs, poems, books, music and visual art will inform and sustain your clinical practice?

Paul McNamara, 7th December 2014

art

3 thoughts on “The Art of Mental Health

  1. moiradeslandes

    I can’t go past David Whyte as a poet for sustaining me through many a moment. And for decision-making I often invoke TS Eliot from Murder in the Cathedral – “… the fourth temptation.. the greatest treason, to do the right deed for the wrong reason”. Loved this blog Paul. Thank you so much.

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