THURSDAY, SEPT. 20 — Farha Abbasi, an associate professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University, noticed something spectacular during her residency. When her patients were equipped with colored pencils and paper, they created breathtaking artwork.


“I was very amazed. Even though they might be scattered in their thoughts, or depressed, they would create these beautiful pieces of art,” Abbasi said. “I would collect them and saw it brought them validation.”


She took her case to the Lansing chapter of the National Association for Mental Illness, or NAMI, and a new event was born.


As part of Mental Health Awareness week, NAMI and MSU’s Department of Psychiatry are seeking art submissions for Healing Through Art in Old Town, hosted by Urban Beat, Wednesday, Oct. 12.


Per NAMI’s website, participating artists need only to express their creative vision and challenges. Along with the art exhibition, there will be a mental health dialogue at Tabernacle of David Church Oct. 7 and an open house at NAMI’s Lansing office Oct. 8.


“We believe there is a significant concern in the community about mental illness. By doing an event like this, it allows people to engage in something they might not otherwise,” said Margaret Keeler, vice president of NAMI Lansing. “We want to have an academic and community partnership to reduce stigma.”


Started in 1974 as the Oasis Health Fellowship, NAMI serves the Lansing community as an advocacy group and nonprofit for mental health resources.


Keeler sought out NAMI to get education on her family members experiencing mental illness in 2003 and has volunteered for the group ever since.


“Often times, individuals with a mental illness and their supporting families feel all alone. Being a part of NAMI feels like there is a community for them.”

As Abbasi’s patients benefited from creating art, the budding psychiatrist was reminded of Vincent Van Gogh.


“In his moments of turmoil, conflict and happiness, he turned to the painting and said to find himself in his art, instead of his illness,” Abbasi said. “We are trying to find people in their art for this event. People are labeled by their illness first, but we should refer to them as people with diseases.”


Societal isolation, financial constraint and family issues all prominently affect those with mental illness, she added.


“The biggest stigma around mental illness is the silence we shroud it in. Stigma, silence and shame go hand in hand, and this vicious cycle becomes the biggest barrier to treatment,” she said.


Misconceptions about who can be affected also plays a role in the mental illness spreading, Abbasi said.


“When studying Malaria, we don't say a mosquito will bite a certain type of person. Mental illness is very random. No one is protected until society and the community comes together to create a system to combat and prevent it.”


The Old Town community has been very supportive of this effort, Abbasi said.


“What is happening in Old Town is an amazing art revolution: It has become the Mecca of creative people,” Abbasi said. “I just wanted to connect all the dots and give something back to the population I'm invested in."


For more information, visit www.namilansing.org

Photo courtesy of the Greater Lansing Business Monthly.