Since 1949, America has observed May as Mental Health Awareness Month. Each year as a nation, we double down on the fight against stigma and educate the public, support those struggling with mental illnesses, and promote policies grounded in evidence-based treatment and methods. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) welcomes the opportunity in May and year-round to spread awareness of the life-enhancing benefits of art therapy and access to mental health care. This year, we were honored to work through our coalitions to celebrate mental health month. Here is a roundup of the month’s awareness activities:
“Partnering for Health and Hope Following Trauma”
The AATA participates as a National Collaborating Organization with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for their annual National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day Event. This year’s theme, “Partnering for Health and Hope Following Trauma” lent itself especially well to art therapy. The AATA collaborated with SAMHSA to produce a video showcasing art therapy as a trauma-informed discipline and illustrating the healing potential of art therapy for children and adolescents who have experienced trauma. The video was shown on loop during the pre-event and online during the live webcast.
Psychiatrist Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, opened the event which included videos, online and in-person audience participation, and panels of experts as well as people who experienced trauma, and parents with children who had traumatic experiences. Discussions focused on current research in trauma-informed care, recognizing the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and brainstorming how to minimize re-traumatization when working with children.
Alex M. Azar II, Secretary of Health and Human Services, presented SAMHSA’s Special Recognition Award to Jacqueline Pata of the National Congress of American Indians, and to eighteen governors’ spouses for their work in promoting trauma-informed care in their states. Six governor’s spouses were in attendance and spoke about their work, and First Lady of Wisconsin Tonette Walker accepted the award on behalf of all of the governors’ spouses.
Mrs. Walker made the most of her trip to the Capitol, meeting in the morning with a group of advocates in the Mental Health Liaison Group at the American Psychological Association. Representatives from the AATA were in attendance for this discussion of her initiative Fostering Futures, the results they have seen in Wisconsin, and how it can be adapted and expanded across the country. Subsequently, on May 22nd, thanks to the efforts of trauma-informed care advocates, Senate Resolution (S. Res. 346) passed, marking congressional support for this priority.
Student-Exhibit at California Capitol
AATA’s state chapters often take the opportunity to educate their legislatures on art therapy and the importance of access to diverse mental health treatment options. This year, the Northern California Art Therapy Association (NorCATA) partnered with Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, CA to raise awareness for children’s mental health. The exhibit, “Considerations for Mental Health” showcased student artwork in the Sacramento State Capitol from May 8-21. The students had the opportunity to visit their legislators and view their exhibit. They presented several group-created paintings as gifts to their legislators.
Furthering Research and Awareness for the Creative Arts Therapies
On May 5, 2018, AATA President Christianne Strang, PhD, ATR-BC, represented the Association in the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations’ (NCCATA) annual in-person meeting. Leaders in the Creative Arts Therapies (CATs) fields strategized to further advocacy and awareness efforts for the CATs professions.
CATs research was further discussed at the Creative Forces Capital Region Summit in Washington, DC, May 14-15, hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts. AATA representatives attended the summit, with the goal to “cultivate collaborative relationships among local artists, community arts organizations, and military populations across the Capital Region to help support service members as they transition from medical treatment facilities back to their homes and families in communities within our region.”
Joining Congressional Mental Health Month Events
Each year the Congressional Mental Health Caucus hosts Congressional events during the month of May to raise awareness about mental health issues and educate legislators and staff on how policies can reflect best-practice care. This year AATA representatives attended two briefings: “Veterans Mental Health” (May 16) and, “Is Treating Depression the Answer to Solving the Opioid Crisis?” (May 23). The first focused on how innovative and evidence based programs can collaborate with the Department of Veterans Affairs and how to address barriers to care.
The session focused on the opioids epidemic was well-attended by congressional staff and mental health advocates alike, as the nation works to meet this crisis with improved policies. Opening remarks were given by Members of the House Mental Health Caucus, including Co-Chairs Grace Napolitano (D-CA-32) and John Katko (R-NY-24) and Member Paul Tonko (D-NY-20). They emphasized that any legislation seeking to address the opioid crisis must be paired with provisions on broader mental health issues. Representative Tonko urged attendees to “be bold — the opioid crisis demands bold strokes.” He noted that 57 bills have recently been drafted in response to the national opioid crisis and reaffirmed that it is critical for legislators to hear from experts in mental health to ensure only evidence-based legislation is passed.
A panel of experts in medicine and technology from across the country spoke to the issues of improving care in rural areas and innovative ways to address the opioid epidemic in the context of mental health. Mia St. John, international boxing champion, recounted her family’s heart wrenching story. She had struggled with addiction herself but found sobriety. Her son dealing with addiction and schizophrenia died in the care of a negligent Rehabilitation Center that was not equipped to provide the services it advertised. After losing her son, she entered a deep depression but somehow managed to maintain sobriety. It was her opioid prescription following hip replacement surgery that finally broke 20 years of sobriety and triggered a relapse. She took her family’s experience and became a strong advocate for mental health reform and founded “El Saber es Poder,” a foundation to empower individuals suffering from mental illness, addiction, and poverty.
Representatives John M. Katko (R-NY), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), and Paul Tonko (D-NY) and boxing champion Mia St. John speak at Congressional briefing “Is Treating Depression the Answer to Solving the Opioid Crisis?”
The AATA continues to advocate for the eradication of stigma and improved awareness around mental health and for evidence-based policies that support individuals living with mental illness and/or substance abuse and increase their access to care. During May and all year long, we are honored to work with our colleagues in the mental health and arts fields to promote the life-enhancing benefits of art therapy.