Creating art is one way to combat mental illness and many people have actually found it to work for them. Over the last few years, the practice of art therapy has grown so much that it is now even used as a therapy for cancer patients. More and more doctors are now seeing the benefits of using art therapy as a way to administer alternative treatments for depression.
It was generally thought that children could not become depressed. Now, researchers recognize that children, like everyone else, are not immune to this emotionally-drained condition. Because children often do not have the capacity to step back, look at themselves, and recognize that the way they’re feeling isn’t normal for them — they are not able to communicate their feelings accurately enough for adults to realize that they are depressed.
Depression has been defined by some as anger turned inward. It is very common among young people and affects as many as one in eight teenagers. Depression affects people of every color, race, economic status, or age. However, it does seem to affect more females than males during adolescence and adulthood. According to the American Psychiatric Association, five percent of the nation’s children are ill with depression. In spite of the alarming rise in depression among young people, many parents and adults are still clueless about the treatments that can work best to address depression. Moreover, diagnosis and treatment of depression is more difficult for children than for adults.
It is therefore very helpful to provide a safe outlet for a child that is experiencing depression. Research shows that children with depression when they are allowed to express their anxieties through art therapy. In one study, art therapy was used to help suicidal teenagers, and results showed that it indeed has positive effect as part of an overall treatment plan. Guilt, worthlessness, and hopelessness are all emotions that can cause depression, and the creative process of art therapy can help a child or teenager cope with these emotions.
At a public school in Chicago, a non-profit organization conducts art therapy as a means of self-expression and self-discovery. Most of the children in that school live in poor communities or come from dysfunctional families. The art therapy works to increase concentration levels, self-esteem, and self-control. It also helps teenagers to enhance their interpersonal skills and defuse angry feelings.
In Thailand, a group runs art therapy camps throughout the year for children living with HIV, bringing them together to learn from and support each other and overcome feelings of depression, stress and anxiety. There is an estimated 20,000 children under the age of 18 living with HIV in Thailand. Like the public school in Chicago, these art activities help to build their self-esteem, restore their confidence and teach them that they have as much worth as any other child.
Art therapy provides children experiencing depression an opportunity to achieve personal growth through improved self- awareness, and to explore unresolved emotional conflicts. Art as an expressive language, provides an access into a relationship with children by tapping into their creativity and offering a form of communication that is nonthreatening as well as provide healing mechanisms to cope themselves with depression. It can bypass language and impairment and allow for the expression of thoughts or feelings from children who find it too difficult to communicate with words.