We are in the midst of a mental health crisis among young people. Anxiety and depression have doubled since the start of the pandemic. In the U.S., over 2.5 million youth suffer from severe depression, 60% of which don’t receive any treatment. Within Chicago Public Schools, it’s not uncommon for mental health resources to be spread thin. Even in schools which do meet the recommended 1:250 ratio of counselors to students, it’s usually not enough to give every student access to the support they may need.
With rates of homicide and violent crime continuing to rise in Chicago, CPS students may bear witness to traumatic events that severely impact their ability to function and learn. School is often a safe escape from these stressors, making art programs essential to their well-being. Art making reduces stress hormone levels and can help reshape and organize the brain to heal from trauma. Art reminds us that we can still create beautiful things in uncertain times, and often it’s just the escape that both students and teachers need.
Words can’t always perfectly describe our feelings and experiences. Bringing art into the classroom creates a space for students to experiment with endless possibilities to communicate their feelings without the discomfort or confusion that can come with trying to express themselves verbally. As students learn to better represent their ideas through their art, they also build up a visual timeline of their progress.
Being exposed to art within public schools gives students the external motivation to address their emotions through a healthy outlet. When going through difficult situations or hardships, it can be a struggle to find the personal motivation to do things purely for our own enjoyment. In 2020, I lost my home, multiple family members, and the future seemed completely uncertain. On my own, I wouldn’t have had the motivation to create any art, but having a class with assignments and projects gave me the incentive to address the struggles I was facing. It gave me the ability to express my emotions without having to share every detail of what I was going through. Working on projects for my art classes became my temporary escape from the real world.
Creating something from our difficulties provides a great sense of fulfillment. Even learning about other artists and the challenges they’ve faced can be a source of inspiration that helps us feel less alone.
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