Sai Durga Gona
It all started as an amusement but quickly turned into a healing mantra to battle against anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Through their ups and downs, art is a common factor that helped Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) patients to express pain, fear and other difficult thoughts and feelings.
Not only are they dealing with mental health and addiction issues, the teaching staff of Workman Arts conduct art therapy sessions for people suffering with depression at CAMH and are trying to alleviate the stigma around it.
Workman Arts is a non-profit organization that works with mental health issues.
“You never get out of depression, but you learn to live with it,” Apanaki Temitayo, CAMH’s first Artist in Wellness, told Humber News.
When she held her vibrant artwork, made of African fabric, there was no sign of depression. She was confident and happy.
She was the victim of sexual abuse and suffered from PTSD for a long time.
For the past eight years, she has been with Workman Arts and played a major role in helping the patients use art.
Temitayo started her journey as a writer and then became a visual artist.
“Art turned into a therapy for me and makes me feel better,” she said.
The 49-year-old’s art works are female-centric.
She focuses on black women’s portraits and people who have had an impact on the world from her country.
“Art helps me to represent who am I, on the canvas. It’s the medium I chose to express myself,” said Temitayo, who was born in Toronto and raised in Trinidad and Tobago.
She has been teaching the patients at Workman Arts for the past four years.
“Like me, my students are battling with mental health issues and, like me, they require compassion and space that I intend to always provide,” she said.
She believes that mental illness comes with tremendous judgemental pressures and it always demands a person’s strength not weakness.
“Social media has influenced the youth so much so that they compare themselves trying to fit in, making the lives of youth more complicated these days,” she said.
“It is important to talk about mental health in schools and talking with anyone about their mental health issues will be the best remedy,” Temitayo said.
Rick Miller, 58, a photography tutor with Workman Arts, has a long history of mental health illness that affected his career and life.
“I worked as a freelancer and because of my mental health, I started loosing contracts and was unemployed for quite a long time,” he told Humber News.
Miller joined CAMH a few years ago and re-started his career as a photographer.
He has done a couple of documentaries in 2011 and currently is working on a documentary about arts and mental illness, which is funded by the Canada Council.
“My career started when I met people from Workman Arts,” Miller said. “They gave me time and work since 2016 and that’s how my teaching career started there.”
His work is filled with landscape photography. “While clicking the pictures, I put myself in it and the nature helps to heal me and its touch is a healing process for me,” he said.
In his classes, Miller tries to understand the challenges faced by the patients.
“My first conversation with the students is about their difficulties and challenges. We understand each other and that’s how we survived and we are helping,” he said.
Literary arts illustrator, Henan Hazime, 27, who continues to struggle with mental health issues, is battling it through art.
“Creating art helps me heal and provides a healthy outlet for self expression which is very therapeutic,” she said. “Battling through mental illness can be difficult and isolating.
“I use nature and art to help me fight my mental illness,” said Hazime, who has been a member at Workman Arts since 2016 and became Literary-Artist-In-Residence in 2017.
She facilitates workshops at Workman Arts and at CAMH and teaches both literary and visual arts.
“When I’m feeling very overwhelmed by depression or anxiety, I found that writing and creating artwork really helps to channel some of that negative energy into something more positive and healing,” Hazime said.
She encourages artists to express themselves in whichever way they want by creating a safe and accessible space where they can freely share their experiences.
“I provide creative channels and guidelines to teach and inspire them without limiting anyone’s creativity or self-expression,” Hazime said.