Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria

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Creating A Mental Health Journey With The Arts


In Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) created an initiative to offer free passes to mental health clients and professionals. The goal was to connect those with mental health issues through art, offering a unique space where they could feel safe and supported by like-minded people. This program is incredibly inspiring – I’d love to see more like it!

I talked about how creativity can positively enhance students’ mental wellbeing during exams, but I’d like to go a bit more in-depth into the mental health benefits of creativity. I’ve seen firsthand the incredibly positive results that the arts can have on people suffering from mental health issues, especially in the student community. This form of therapy is becoming an increasingly popular way for students suffering from mental health issues such as severe anxiety and PTSD to express their creativity on their healing journey.

Here are some of the biggest ways that I’ve seen the arts transform the lives of students struggling with mental health issues:

A new type of safe space

The concept of safe space has been a topic of conversation on many university campuses over the past few years. Despite many debates as to the validity of maintaining safe spaces, I’ve found that they can be very beneficial for several communities, particularly for marginalized students. In the mental health community, safe space takes on additional significance, as many students with mental health concerns may find it difficult to be in public places.

Art galleries and other artistic venues offer a calming, safe atmosphere where students can enjoy a public space with individuals experiencing the same mental health challenges. I’ve often seen these venues become a supportive environment where students are encouraged to connect with others through the healing power of the arts.

An expanding community

To the same point, I’ve seen many students feel so burdened by the prospect of socializing in a group that they can feel unable to leave the comfort of their own home. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are enough to make it difficult for some people to leave their homes, but the additional stigma related to mental illness can make it unbearable to be in groups. Programs that connect students through artistic venues can offer a sense of community in times where they may feel particularly isolated.

I personally recommend programs that expand mental health communities through the arts because the stigma against mental health is not as prevalent in these communities. There is a strong indication that many artistic groups work to support those suffering from mental health challenges, offering opportunities for self-expression through the healing journey.

Art and its role in personal wellbeing

Creative energy and emotional wellbeing have been linked in several studies, indicating that participation in the arts can improve a person’s quality of life. In the student community, I’ve seen an overall increase in the level of positivity, coupled with a decrease in symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. In fact, a study revealed that 71% of participants felt a decrease in anxiety, with 76% claiming that they felt an increase in their sense of overall wellbeing.

To me, this is a strong indication that there is a correlation between creative pursuits and combatting mental health issues. With such encouraging statistics, and an increasing trend towards students with mental health issues becoming engaged in the arts, I look forward to seeing more programs like this place in other communities.

My hope is that in the future, programs, such as the AGO’s, will be increasingly available. The demand is there, and in conjunction with your Student Assistance Program, the journey towards better mental health and wellbeing is within your reach.






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Moncton Tragedy: How a Community Heals

Late last night suspected gunman Justin Bourque was arrested for the allegedly killing three MountiesIn light of the recent shooting of three RCMP officers, the Moncton, New Brunswick community can breathe easier now that they are free from imminent violence and danger, but now the difficult part begins – grief and healing.

How does a small community learn to feel safe after experiencing that level of threat and violence and being subject to home lockdown, while police tracked a man armed with assault rifles? How does the same community recover from the loss of three men who were fathers, colleagues, brothers and sons of many of the community members?

It would be only too easy for a community like Moncton to remain angry and unforgiving at not only the man who committed these crimes, but at the failure of those around him to recognize warning signs and allowing deadly weapons in the hands of someone capable of such violence. However, healing is possible when individuals in the community rely on each other and use their shared grief to move forward. Recovery occurs through the participation in formal settings, like participation in memorials, vigils and community gatherings, but healing also takes place in the small moments, between friends and family members, verbalizing their grief by speaking about their loss and confusion. In a small, tight-knit community such as Moncton, and their closeness will no doubt aid in their path to healing.

Community leaders play a vital role in the healing of an entire community, as they need to recognize and assess the needs of the community members and encourage understanding and tolerance when it is almost impossible to do so. These leaders – political, educational, business, religious – have the unique responsibility to manage their own grief in addition to guiding the community members to the next stage of healing when they are ready.

In the case of such reckless violence and loss, we may be at a loss to comprehend the reasons why the shooter took this particular course of action, or how his state of mental health played into his decision-making. The community must remember that while there may be no understanding this tragedy, recovery is possible through forgiveness and love.

As surrounding supporters of the Moncton community, what can we do to learn from their experience? Perhaps it is to remember that every day matters and that, since life can be unpredictable, we need to hold on tight to what is important and learn to never take it for granted.

How else can the community of Moncton manage their grief? What is important for them to remember? I look forward to your thoughts below.