Spreading awareness of mental illness through art
‘It’s a form of expression, just like talking’
October 21, 2016, 6:41 pm ASTLast Updated: October 21, 2016, 6:41 pm
Lukas Boucher creates works of art by painting on a canvas every day to release stress and anxiety.
The seven-year-old and his mother, Jacquie Boucher of Hammonds Plains, have started a movement called #ArtSpeaks, which aims to help spread awareness of mental illness through art.
“We paint every single day after school,” says Boucher. “We do it to unwind.”
Lukas has selective mutism, a high anxiety disorder that causes him to be incapable of speaking in certain settings, such as at school.
“Kids don’t outgrow anxiety disorders,” says Boucher. “It requires treatment just like any other medical condition.” She emphasizes that if the disorder is left untreated, it could lead to depression, low self-esteem and feelings of isolation.
His mother, who is also the founder of Creative Crew Art Parties, encouraged him to start painting as a way to express himself and connect with his emotions.
“Art is meaningful; it is a way of expressing yourself. There is no right or wrong way to paint or do art,” says Boucher.
“It’s a form of expression, just like talking, so it’s just a way of releasing your feelings and emotions, and communicating.”
Donna Betts, a certified art therapist in the United States, says “becoming fully engaged in the process of painting helps to integrate our mind and body.”
“Our senses are put to full use when we place a brush on a canvas and engage kinaesthetically with the painting materials,” says Betts, a graduate of Halifax’s NSCAD University.
Lukas and Boucher create weekly #ArtSpeaks instructional videos, so others can paint along, and they also help raise awareness for childhood mental illness.
The goal of the #ArtSpeaks videos is to provide basic painting tips to other families that have children with mental illness, so they can learn to paint and recognize its therapeutic value.
“The idea behind the videos is to talk about childhood mental illnesses and to try to break the stigma,” says Boucher.
Lukas began painting two years ago and hasn’t stopped since. Boucher said he would come home from school and paint or draw what happened during the day.
“It would be a great way for us to discuss and go over things that happened,” says Boucher. “It was a way for him to learn and understand his emotions and to communicate.”
Lukas has an assistant at school to help him, and is now able to talk to certain people quietly. “He uses pictures to point to what he wants and needs,” says Boucher.
“Everything is very scheduled for him to aid in his anxiety throughout the day.”
A study done earlier this year revealed that 45 minutes of making art significantly lessens stress levels. The study was led by Dr. Girija Kaimal, an assistant professor of creative art therapies at Drexel University in Pennsylvania.
“Art making in a therapeutic setting can lower stress levels, and improve mood and self-efficacy,” said Kaimal in an interview.
“Art making by ourselves can be a way to practice self-care. I engage in art-making for that very reason.”
Boucher has already started selling her son’s paintings through her personal Facebook page and on the #ArtSpeaks page on Facebook. Prices range from $50 to $100.
By the end of this year, Boucher hopes to host an event at a hall or in a gallery to sell both Lukas’ and her own paintings. Proceeds of the sales will go to charities that support childhood mental illnesses.