Mental Health art gallery evokes empathy

A painting by Izabella M. from Kentucky shows a portrait of three faced-girl. The emotions and technique is intriguing and shows someone hiding their true self. (Izabella M.)

The bright colors and different-sized boxes lay across the bright white screen. Those boxes are pictures of pictures, paintings, drawings and poems submitted to the National Mental Health Art Gallery. The rainbow collage of art showcases works from dozens of people who have, or have known someone who has, struggled with mental health. 

The National Mental Health Art Gallery is sponsored by the National Federation of Families and provides online access to a display of artworks that express how the artist is feeling. The NMHAG allows drawings, paintings, graphic art, photography, poetry, music and short videos to be displayed in an online gallery that can be accessed by anyone. May was Mental Health Awareness Month, and people should seek out websites like in NMHAG in order to educate themselves on different ways mental health struggles can be prevalent in many people’s lives. As I looked through the array of colorful and meaningful art, I found how important it is to become exposed to struggles other people go through as a reminder that you don’t always know how someone is really feeling.

“Sometimes I feel like a kingdom of medicine rules us” by an anonymous artist from Michigan depicts a stack of orange medicine bottles arranged with white tops and white labels in a centric structure. The concept of the structure is stunning; the artwork brims in a deeper meaning than a drawing or painting. The empty medicine bottles remind me of the emptiness one might feel from being consumed and controlled by a drug. This piece does a great job of exhibiting the struggles of needing medicine to survive and mask mental disorders. I never thought about how constantly relying on medicine might affect someone’s will to think and work for themselves. I now understand that someone could feel so controlled by medications that they do not recognize themselves. This piece helped me learn that medicine that is supposed to help control mental health, ends up controlling the consumer. I now know that medicine might not always be the best option, when helping someone cope with their unease, or mental diagnosis.

A poem by 25-year-old Christina P. from California showcases only the intro to a multiple-part poetry series named “Say ‘No’ To Stigma.” The writer talked about action versus consequence. Similar to the medicine bottle contraption, “Say ‘No’ To Stigma” describes the harm in feeding teens medication and labeling children with an illness as if something is wrong with them. As an alternative, the poet writes about how having someone just to listen, and normalizing not feeling happy all the time are more effective than making one who has difficulties take medications or forcing them to talk about their trauma. The poem, accompanied by statistics and evidence behind what the writer was claiming, was an excellent way for readers to understand some good ways to be an ally to persons with mental health struggles. In addition, this poem really gave me insight into how broken the mental health industry is, and how much miscommunication there is between patients and doctors.

As I looked through the array of colorful and meaningful art, I found how important it is to become exposed to struggles other people go through as a reminder that you don’t always know how someone is really feeling.”

— Olivia Adam

A painting by Izabella M. from Kentucky depicts a girl who is seen with three emotions on one face. One emotion is looking up with only the eyes being exposed, the second emotion is in the center part of the face, and the last emotion shows the last third of the face. I love this painting. The technique the painter used with their brush strokes, and colors they used to depict the contrast of vehemence, is intriguing. The technique in this painting is very nicely executed, but the meaning behind the artwork can be described in different ways. I interpret the painting as someone hiding their true self from the outside world, almost like they wear a mask that everyone outside them sees, but no one ever knows what the emotion is under the mask. Izabella’s painting can enlighten people to how one might never know what someone is really going through. Many people experience their worst moments by themselves, and by only seeing one side of someone, a person may not consider how their actions might affect one when they are alone. This piece of artwork is fascinating to look at and depicts the complexity that every human has, but is not always seen by the outside world. 

The last art piece I observed was fascinating to watch. This art piece was a video of a 35-year-old dancer named Michelina from Florida. Michelina performed a song called “Hounds” by RY X. Though the specific genre of dance was not immediately apparent in her performance, the way the artist moves was clearly meant to express the fluidity of her mental health. Likewise, her movement matches the somber and lonely aura of “Hounds” playing in the background. Her moves are slow but significant — they go high and low, as the song goes low and deep. The layers of instruments like the guitar and piano meet the consistency of the choreography. Michelina’s dance illustrates an interpretive story to watchers. Michelina’s submission is one of the best visual art pieces I viewed in the NMHAG because of how visual and movement-based it is. I interpret her piece as how hard and deep it is to experience sadness, and melancholy, especially alone. For someone who did not understand the extent of the emotions someone they loved was going through, I would lead them to Michelina’s artwork.  

The pieces showcased in the NMHAG are diverse and meaningful. Many people have loved ones or friends experiencing sadness and self doubt that some of the artists on NMHAG demonstrate in their art. Suppose someone is wondering how they can comprehend the lack of motivation and coldness of being stuck in a cycle of depression their loved ones relate to. In this case, NMHAG is a great way to understand, especially when you have not fully experienced significant mental health struggles yourself. All in all, NMHAG was an excellent way for me to see different artworks made by survivors of mental health setbacks. The NMHAG has a diverse set of artistry and a diverse group of creators. I recommend checking out the National Mental Health Art Gallery to anyone trying to experience and understand what others around them might be going through.