Try Making Art to Manage Mental Illness Symptoms

May 21, 2024 Michaela Jarvis

I've used art to manage my mental illness. Art and tapping into creativity is an excellent source of self-therapy. When I was in intensive therapy during a difficult point of my life, I was introduced to art as therapy. I was skeptical at first, but the idea that art could help manage my mental illness and be soothing and stress-relieving opened a new door for me in my recovery.

Diving Into Art to Manage Mental Illness

During that difficult time, my love for creation blossomed. Previously, I had been shy about my art, feeling I was never "original" or "good" enough. But that is not the point of creation; the point was that I found a hobby that aligned with my emotional needs.

Collage creation became one of my preferred methods of art to manage mental illness. I strolled thrift stores, picking up old photography magazines and poetry books. I would tear out pieces and paste them on a canvas until it made a quilt of emotion. 

One of the pieces I loved the most had two separate canvases. One was dark and sad, and it reflected how I felt during a depressive episode. The other was floral and bright, and it reflected how I wanted to feel, how there was good in the world. (I liked the bright version so much, I now have a tattoo of one of the pasted poetry lines to remind myself that beauty exists.)

Art to Manage Mental Illness and Difficult Emotions

I loved those pieces because it felt like I could say, "Look! This is how I feel!" without having to actually find the words. Describing a dark place was like trying to describe the color black. When I've felt trapped or low, creating pieces that reflected those complex feelings helped me communicate to others what was happening in my mind. 

My emotions were more easily communicated, but also, after I started sharing my art to manage mental illness, some others found it relatable. There was an immense amount of comfort and pride when I created something that made others say, "I've felt that too."

Using Art as a Distraction to Manage Mental Illness

Not only was art to manage mental illness an outlet and source of communication for my frustration and sadness, but it also became a helpful distraction. I would spend hours painting, drawing, and pasting. It kept my mind busy, which made it difficult to dwell on any anxious thoughts. 

It was meditative. I forgot to "think," and I was able to just exist. The art didn't even need to be "good-looking." Half of the time, it wasn't, but there was still a sense of accomplishment and pride after finishing a piece.

It would be easy to think I would be mentally tired after spending hours trying to paint grass the perfect shade of green, but I would feel refreshed. It's the same feeling I get after a meditation session.

Types of Therapeutic Art to Manage Mental Illness

My journey led me to paint, pencil, and paste, but there are many routes to expressing oneself. Many find solace in playing and writing music, dancing, sewing, and much more.

There is also comfort in enjoying art created by others, especially if the message is relatable. I have whole playlists dedicated to specific feelings for exactly that reason. It's a relief to hear an artist explain emotions similar to mine, and I find comfort in knowing I'm not alone in my experience.

Art to manage mental illness has been an incredibly therapeutic outlet for me. From self-expression and communication to distraction and meditation, art can help someone navigating their mental illness recovery journey feel a little more grounded, understood, and fulfilled.

APA Reference
Jarvis, M. (2024, May 21). Try Making Art to Manage Mental Illness Symptoms, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Michaela Jarvis

Michaela Jarvis is continuously on her road to self-improvement while managing bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the life challenges that come with being in your 20s. Find Michaela on Instagram, LinkedIn, and her website.

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