Art to Reduce Mental Health Stigma kicked off Friday night with the Express Your Psych Open Mic Night, an event aimed at creating a safe space in Providence for individuals to illuminate and express their experiences with mental health through all mediums of art.
A nonprofit established this summer by co-founders Nicole Spring ’20.5 and former Herald Metro Editor Mirabella Roberts ’20, ARMS aims to combat the stigma surrounding mental health by directly encouraging conversations on the subject. Events like Express Your Psych are just the start of many initiatives directed at promoting dialogue on mental health.
Spring and Roberts were motivated to curate events like Express Your Psych after realizing the necessity of safe spaces to discuss mental health. Express Your Psych encourages University students and other Providence residents to communicate their experiences with mental illness through art, Roberts said, adding that she hopes to challenge stigma around mental health by “starting conversations, … and hopefully (developing) a space where people aren’t afraid to be themselves.”
Express Your Psych included “spoken-word,” “original music” and “stories,” Roberts said. Creating a sincerely safe space where individuals could express themselves enabled audience members to feel “welcome to speak about (their) mental illness” — a common refrain left behind in ARMS’ response cards after the event.
These response cards, which showed the audience’s feedback on the event, were overwhelmingly positive, as the majority of respondents expressed interest in future events and stated that the event influenced their perception of mental health stigma, Spring said. “Those who said that their perception wasn’t changed … usually (were) people who have experienced mental illness already … or were very aware of what mental illness is like,” she added.
According to Spring, Express Your Psych required extensive planning during the summer. After the initial success of ARMS, an interactive art gallery that featured an open mic Sept. 6, the organization decided to continue its programming. “We planned and got the space (at AS220) booked early summer,” Spring said. “Once we got to school, we met in person to go over how we wanted to promote the event and (to) gather names of people who wanted to perform.”
ARMS’ Express Your Psych coincided with the University’s football game against Harvard, which created a possible obstacle for attendance at the new nonprofit’s event, Spring said. However, Express Your Psych “had a little over forty people show up, so (ARMS is) really optimistic about future events that are not at the same time as Brown events,” Spring said.
Melissa Sierra ’20, the recruitment officer of ARMS, described her overall experience with ARMS as very positive. She emphasized the importance of ARMS’ purpose and impact on campus culture, as well as the greater Providence area. “It was very obvious that people were really resistant to even talking,” Sierra said. “But it’s so important that (conversations) happen,” she added. Spring related how Express Your Psych’s safe space allowed for people like her, who had not planned to perform, to share their stories.
More events like Express Your Psych are in the works. “We’ll definitely have more open mics and more art galleries, and we want to end up selling our art to fundraise and also enable people to see what is being produced by members of our group,” Spring said.“We’re really hoping to make a positive and substantial change in the way mental illness is viewed.”