The Intersection of Mental Health & the Arts

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

There is a strong relationship between mental health and creativity. The stereotype of the “tortured artist,” where the best creators have endured the most suffering—and mental illness—only further solidifies stigma in the community. People may be less inclined to try creative outlets to work through difficult moments and feelings. In turn, people may be afraid to express themselves as an artist out of fear of being judged, misunderstood, or stigmatized.

Engaging with art can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. In addition, using art as a form of expression can help folks manage their mental and emotional well-being.

So how can we start changing the narrative around mental health and the arts? What ways can we explore how the arts can help with healing, either for ourselves or our loved ones?

Audience Questions

Leslie Chihuly, president and chief executive officer of Chihuly Studio and co-founder of the Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation, and McLean Hospital’s Eriana Kirwin, OTD, highlight ways that creativity can benefit our mental state, share how to express ourselves in an emotionally helpful way, and answer questions on how we can all do our part to reduce the stigma of mental health.

  • Can you each share a bit of why the intersection of mental health and the creative arts is so important to you?
  • How have each of you seen creative outlets as a mentally therapeutic tool and as an avenue for healing?
  • How do creative practices regulate the nervous system?
  • How do you think we can work towards destigmatizing the mental health status of artists?
  • What advice do you have for individuals looking to start exploring the arts as a therapy form, but are unsure where to start?
  • What ways, clinically or personally, have you seen art be a practice of mindfulness?
  • In what ways has creativity been a source of self-care for you?
  • Do you have advice for people who are looking to explore the arts but have a hard time with not being good at things? Many adults that have anxiety have a hard time trying new things, out of fear of embarrassment or failure.
  • How do I let go of the inner critic in the process of making art? Or how can we talk back to it and make it less critical?
  • Do either of you have advice for when others minimize the effect of what we’re creating? I quilt and embroider, and one of my close friends doesn’t see what the “big deal” is when I show them my work.
  • Can each of you talk a little about art’s usefulness in building perseverance?
  • Do you have any suggestions for artistic outlets for young adults with cognitive disabilities?
  • I feel like art, in addition to allowing you to be playful and present, helps you get lost in yourself and help you find yourself. Do you have any thoughts on this?
  • How do you encourage rather than demand a child to engage in art?
  • How does creating art help people who are incarcerated?
  • Do you have any tips for people with OCD who experience anxiety, stress, and perfectionism when engaging in a creative activity?
  • While I appreciate the value of celebrities sharing their mental health challenges, I do not feel as if there is much societal progress in accepting and addressing the challenges of non-famous people. Any thoughts on how the arts can address this?
  • What are some instances where you might use art as an intervention in a clinical setting? How do you recognize someone as open to this kind of intervention?
  • Is there any form of art expression where we should be concerned around what’s being created? If our child or loved one is creating things that are sad or morbid, should we have a conversation about their mental wellbeing?
  • How can we turn art into a social, rather than isolating, activity?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.


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About Leslie Chihuly

Leslie Jackson Chihuly is an American arts executive and philanthropist with a focus on democratizing access to the arts and to ensuring ongoing viability for artists and arts organizations. She is the president and chief executive officer of Chihuly Studio and Chihuly Workshop, both of which support the artistic vision of her husband and partner, Dale Chihuly. Leslie is a member of the International Women’s Forum and serves on the boards of Vassar College and Pilchuck Glass School. She chairs the Benaroya Hall Music Center Board, and serves as chair emerita of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra Board.

In 2018, Leslie was inducted into the College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in recognition of her extraordinary achievements in the arts.

About Eriana Kirwin

Eriana Kirwin, OTD, is an occupational therapist at McLean’s Pathways Academy. Pathways Academy is a year-round, therapeutic day school developed to meet the social, sensory, psychological, and educational needs of children and adolescents ages 6 through 22 with autism spectrum disorders.

Learn more about Pathways Academy.

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