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U of C students create art that brings mental health issues to light

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CALGARY -

Four students from the University of Calgary have teamed up to create art in an effort to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.

Though the students involved in the Art of Mindfulness project have never taken any arts classes or had their work displayed in galleries, they are selling art to raise money for the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education.

The students are all members of the STEM Art Hub. STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

Typically, U of C students enrolled in STEM courses don't mix with arts students, but members of the STEM Art Hub also have a passion for art.

Allesha Eman is a third year biomedical sciences student who wants to be a physician. She came up with the Art of Mindfulness project and included a number of other STEM students to create meaningful artwork.

"We gave our artists three prompts," said Eman. "We said you can either depict 'what does mindfulness look like to you,' you can share your mental health story or – if you have read any kind of research article about science, about mental health illness – create a painting or something out of that, out of the results out of the message."

Eman's painting, which depicts a downtown scene at night, is one of 29 works on display for the show.

"I wanted to do something like motion blur because I love how you can't tell what you're looking at," said Eman.

"You know that there are a bunch of lights, you're driving by them, and it feels like stress and anxiety to me… it feels just like that where I can't make sense of my surroundings … feels like a lot of flashing lights. I have migraines so flashing lights are never a good thing."

Tarannum Rahnuma is a third year neuroscience student who may become a psychiatrist one day. She says art can inspire science and science can inspire art.

"I found that I was drawn to both the arts and to STEM from a pretty young age," said Rahnuma.

"I do research in mental health-adjacent fields and it turns out that 75 per cent of mental illnesses begin before the age of 24, so I think it's really important for young people especially to get involved and to have a say, and just advocating for mental health."

Andrew Szeto, an associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Calgary, says he's impressed with the artwork and the inspiration behind it.

"This is important for so many different reasons," said Szeto.

"First of all, as somebody who does stigma reduction research on campus here, I can appreciate that this project is creating awareness, really reducing the stigma of mental illness.

"What this project does say is that mental health is a priority right for our campus, for the community," said Szeto.

Iliana Ortega is with the Mathison Centre.

She says it does a lot of work with young people. and the funds raised through the Art of Mindfulness project will be used for research.

"A lot of the funds that come from these kinds of events – and also from very generous donors – go to fund research projects and community projects," said Ortega.

"Because what we try to do is translational work – all the way from basic work, working in labs, – to try to understand better mental health and develop treatments for mental health, and then how to translate that into clinical practice and into our communities."

The art can be viewed and purchased online through the U of C's STEM Art Hub website.

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