Des Moines, Iowa April 2018
National League of American Pen Women, Washington, DC
In April, 2018, I participated with five women on a panel, “Swimming Upstream,” at our 49th Biennial Conference in Des Moines. The panel moderator and fellow Pen Woman member is Brigadier General Clara Adams-Ender, who has an amazing background and shares her story in “My Rise to the Stars.”
We were asked to share our individual struggles with major illnesses, in an effort to help others understand the mental and physical challenges that confront so many creative and highly talented women. I described my challenges with PTSD as a result of septic shock from Meningitis in 2014. During my recovery I journaled my difficult road to recovery, using writing and drawing to express my feelings. That series, “Emergence,” has become a means to speak to various groups about using expression through the arts as a means of healing.
Clara Leach Adams-Ender (born July 11, 1939) is a retired US Army officer who was Chief of the United States Army Nurse Corps from September 1987 to August 1991. She was the first woman to receive her master’s degree in military arts and sciences from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. She is also the first African-American nurse corps officer to graduate from the United States Army War College. When she retired, in 1993, she was serving as commanding officer of Fort Belvoir.
Her letter follows.
HOW CAN THE ARTS PROMOTE MENTAL HEALTH?
In the United States today, it is estimated that 1 in 5 adults or 43.8 million Americans experiences mental illness in a given year. Mental illness takes many forms and has many causes. Genes and family history may play a role, life experiences, such as stressors and a history of abuse may matter, and biological factors can also be part of the cause. Mental illnesses are serious and can affect our thinking, productivity and behavior.
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act as we cope with life. It also determines how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Further, it may affect how we may develop and respond to physical maladies and conditions. Mental health is important at every stage of our lives, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
The arts play more and more of a role in healing people with mental health challenges. Judy Rollins, in an essay titled “Arts, Health and Wellness” stated the following: “Future healthcare will focus on the healing of the whole person and will specifically focus more fully on preventative care. In addition, a growing shortage of healthcare professionals will lead to a shift in tasks to adjacent professionals and a restructuring generally of the health care team. Art and artists have a high potential to become more fully integrated into the healthcare team, entrusted with the care of our citizens, through design, art-based therapies and preventative exercise regimens.” As the population of persons 85 and older grows exponentially, so will the need for interventions that can prolong cognitive function and increase quality of life and socialization. The arts, already known as a good mechanism with some of these issues will come into wider use as a way of bettering the lives of our oldest Americans.
More and more arts therapies are being developed to help the mentally ill. Art therapy is a fairly recent innovation used to promote mental health. Art and psychotherapy are used to connect with patients. Art helps people connect with and deal with their emotions and help shape their own identity. Music, writing, dance and other art forms can affect behavioral issues and contribute to overall psychological well-being.
General Clara Adams-Ender