Art and Healing: How Creativity Can Support Mental Health

By Vonnie Woodrick | Paintings by Leyna Luttrull

There are many types of therapy that aid in improving our mental health. Today, many people are finding ways to reduce anxiety and diminish depression with various forms of art. Writing has been my go-to method for years; when I began putting pencil to paper, my racing thoughts became more clear and organized. Having an outlet to summarize my feelings allowed me to heal — and perhaps to help others heal. 

The ability to express our selves is the key to obtaining strong mental health. Anxiety and depression can be challenging and misunderstood, yet it has been continuously proven that art therapy can reduce the causes and symptoms of depression.

According to verywellmind.com, depression and suicide are linked: Nearly 60 percent of those who die by suicide have suffered from major depression. Many people believe that finding avenues to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety can be difficult. Simple responsibilities such as dishes, laundry and even getting out of bed can be challenging during a depressive episode.

Leyna Luttrull is a Grand Rapids artist with an awe-inspiring ability to piece together personal depictions of mental health illnesses. After losing a family member to schizophrenia, she was determined to find a way to create a visual of what people experience during their struggles with mental health. Her paintings are stunning, and simply by looking at them, the viewer gains deep insight into what someone else’s struggle may feel like.

In 2018, Luttrull partnered with Sophia Cerniglia for an ArtPrize installation titled, “Disease Does Not Discriminate,” which invited people to share their own experiences with mental health. By doing so, Luttrell was able to notice similarities in the way each described illnesses such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, postpartum depression and more. 

Marney Davies is a local artist who works in acrylics, encaustics and mixed media. Davies’ talent goes beyond painting and into interior design, home renovations and more. Her creative spirit and passion for mental health issues inspire her to help others through her art. By doing so, Marney discovered she was also helping herself. 

When Davies lost a family member to suicide, she decided to create a series of paintings that allowed her to discover a new talent, evoke conversations and help her heal her own heart. A portrait of Jimi Hendrix was the first piece in Marney’s series of celebrities who have succumbed to drug overdose. Portraits of Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, all followed, leaving her with an interest in learning more about depression and mental illness. 

“For people with depression, art therapy represents an opportunity to push against that destruction by immersing yourself in the process of creation,” said Marygrace Berberian, a clinical assistant professor of art therapy at New York University. “Research has shown that art-making can have a profound impact on a person’s physical and psychological well-being.”

The power of healing extends beyond visual art; music, literature, film and more can provide avenues to understanding and soothing mental health struggles. 

Emily Powers, project coordinator for iunderstand, shared that art has played a significant role in her own healing.

“Listening to music and reading poetry have impacted me positively as the words carry significant meaning which can be very relatable to your own feelings you’re experiencing,” Powers expressed.

Do you have an art form that helps you fight off depression or can help change your mood and thoughts? Share them with me at Vonnie@iunderstandloveheals.org

Please visit iunderstandloveheals.org to download a free therapy page to color and discover the many benefits a simple act of coloring can have. 

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