Tackling Mental Health Stigma through the Arts



mental health 1In North America, teens and young adults are the most at-risk for dealing with mental health issues. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, suicide is the cause of death for 24% of people between the ages of 15 and 24.[1] Stigmas surrounding mental health often stop people from seeking help, but one organization, Art With Impact, is working towards breaking down these barriers.


Short Films Breaking Barriers


The mission of Art With Impact is simple: they aim to promote “mental wellness by creating space for young people to learn and connect through art and media.”[2] This is done through online, monthly contests where youths are invited to submit short films, roughly five minutes in length, that deal with topics surrounding mental health.

These contests allow for the exploration of creative outlets, discussion of mental health stigmas and creation of ways to overcome boundaries. Each month, a winner is awarded $1,000. The films are then also used by Art With Impact for future events and workshops.

“We use the winning films as a safe start off point to engage college and university students in discussions about mental health, using film as a unique way to elicit emotion and show true, honest accounts of mental illness,” explained Natalie Daley, Director of Art With Impact Canada, in conversation with Innovate Development. “Art speaks the language of our interior worlds; it’s a language that we all speak and can understand. In terms of film, film uses unique nuance to accurately portray what it’s like living with mental illnesses and can provoke more thought and discussion than you might have chatting with a family or friend.”

Art With Impact Canada runs two programs: Films With Impact for high school students, and Movies With Impact for post-secondary students. Movies With Impact is currently the main program of focus, with events being held on post-secondary campuses across the country.

“We also assemble resource panels with lived experience speakers and local accessible services in order to connect students directly to resources on campus and within the community at each event, thereby encouraging early intervention and prevention,” Daley continued. “We’re trying to tackle the strong public and self-stigma that persists with mental illness.”


Community Support for Mental Health


mental health 2Earlier this month, Art With Impact Canada partnered with Studio.89 to run an event, HeART & Soul: A Night of Art Therapy. Held at the cafe in Mississauga, Ontario, it showcased different types of art therapy, and showed attendees how art can help transcend boundaries of mental health stigma to create a sense of community and overall well being. People were encouraged to participate in workshops and listen to musical performances that were centred around topics of mental health.

“The idea for this event came from a community member who wanted to host a fundraising concert, with no specific cause [or] organization in mind,” said Aanchal Mogla, Program & Events Coordinator for Studio.89. “That idea grew into this much larger event … to promote awareness around mental health, specifically with youth.”

Mogal also echoed many of Daley’s sentiments regarding the use of art to fight mental health stigmas, and its importance in creating positive community discussions.

“Art has a way of provoking unique thoughts, and when followed up with the right prompts or questions, it can allow for a healthy discussion and liberation of those thoughts and mindsets,” she said. “By harnessing the power various forms of art have on the psyche, we can better ourselves by improving our mind state and, ultimately, our overall wellness.”

Studio.89 operates under a social enterprise model, and is often approached by community members looking to support various local organizations and causes. Funds raised through their cafe sales directly support their own non-profit organization, Youth Troopers for Global Awareness (YTGA), a youth-led group that, according to Mogla, mobilizes and empowers young people for social justice through the arts, various events, workshops campaigns and special projects.

You can watch the winning film from Art With Impact’s September contest online here, and you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter. You can also follow Studio.89 on Facebook and Twitter.


[1] http://www.cmha.ca/media/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/#.VmjLARorLVo

[2] http://www.artwithimpact.org/awi/mission-vision


Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth is a writer currently based in Kitchener-Waterloo.

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