Tag Archives: autism

Get “Reel”

Perhaps "Reel Mind" is an idea whose time has come here in Arizona

Mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They’ve done the math, noting that 60 million Americans are affected. Yet mental illness gets a lot less attention than other health issues.

Depression is to autism what pancreatic cancer is to breast cancer in terms of media coverage. They’re all devastating, but society focuses too often on a few conditions to the exclusion of others. It’s a painful reality for families whose loved ones live with the equivalent of medical minorities. So I’m always eager to spread the word about lesser tackled topics.

There’s an affiliate of Mental Health America in Rochester, New York that’s working with other organizations to raise awareness of diverse mental health issues next week through something called “Reel Mind.” It’s a “theatre and film series about mental illness,” now in its fourth season. Originally a film festival, this year’s “Reel Mind” has been expanded to include an art exhibit and theater performance.

Series selections are designed to “address the social stigma of mental illness and offer the message that recovery is possible.” Each is followed by a discussion with experts in the mental health field. Series co-director Ruth Cowing says their Q & A sessions are well attended. “With this, almost everyone stays in their seat.”

“A lot of people come with their own stories or struggles of family members and hope to find information,” says Cowing. This year’s offerings cover schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and autism. The “Reel Mind” film series takes place May 8 through June 26. Perhaps those in Arizona who can’t attend will consider creating something similar for families in the Southwest.

“The Reel Mind” series opens with a documentary titled “Crazy Art,” which “tells the story of three talented artists with schizophrenia as they search for identity, acceptance and recovery.” The “study in hope” also tackles a bit of art history, considering how artists like Van Gogh created brilliant works while in the throws of psychiatric symptoms. The screening will be accompanied by an art show called “Metamorphosis” curated by the Creative Wellness Center.

A “Reel Mind” fundraiser taking place May 18 includes a Blackfriars Theatre production of “Grey Gardens,” a musical that considers the lives of two well-connected socialites who become East Hampton’s most notorious recluses. “Grey Gardens” features book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie. I remember listening to the music many years ago after my daughter Lizabeth checked the CD out from our local library.

“Reel Mind” presents “Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter,” an Oscar-nominated documentary about “the various stages of a mother’s Alzheimer’s disease and the evolution of a daughter’s response to the illness,” on May 22. The film’s been described as “a life-affirming exploration of family relations, aging, change, the meaning of memory and love.”

A film titled “The Boy Inside: A Journey Into Autism” will be screened June 12 as part of this year’s “Reel Mind.” Filmmaker Marianne Kaplan followed a year in the life of her 12-year-old son Adam, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome — capturing his desperate attempts to fit in amidst “bullies, insensitive classmates and parents with at-times frayed nerves.”

This year’s “Reel Mind” series concludes with a screening of “Search for Sanity” plus a preview of “Echo of the Past.” The first is a 1954 TV special filmed inside the Hudson River State Hospital, while the latter is a work in progress focusing on the former Rochester State Hospital. Together they reflect “shifting attitudes towards mental illness” during the “mass deinstitutionalization of the first half of the 20th century.”

Too few community supports were in place at the time, leading to large numbers of people with mental illness facing homelessness, unemployment, criminalization and other outcomes we should no longer tolerate. When series like “Reel Mind” help us increase and improve supports for people living with all types of brain disorders, they do us all a great service. Every brain is important, and every person matters.

– Lynn

Note: Explore the works and words of Vincent Van Gogh at the “Van Gogh Alive” exhibit through June 17 at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix

Coming up: Sinews, saguaro and starlight

Ode to the Oliviers

Scene from "Matilda the Musical" featuring characters Matilda and Mrs. Phelps (Image: Quirk Books). The show earned seven 2012 Olivier Awards.

I spent a lovely afternoon at Sunday’s Lawrence Olivier Awards in London thanks to a live online broadcast that’s got me appreciating all the modern technology I’ve typically scoffed at until now.

I was just a teen when the awards, first dubbed The Society of West End Theatre Awards, originated in 1976, but married and in graduate school when they became the Lawrence Olivier Awards in 1984.

In between, I studied for a year in Europe — but spent most trips to London exploring museums and architectural wonders rather than theater offerings. One of many oversights committed during my youth.

The awards are run by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), which commissioned sculptor Harry Franchette to create the award that’s an elegant take on the young Lawrence Olivier as Henry V at the Old Vic in 1937.

I was struck by several aspects of the ceremony and its broadcast. Though the SOLT’s partnership with MasterCard is evident, there were no tacky commercials or other interruptions we accept too readily as American television viewers.

Instead, breaks during various portions of the ceremony were filled with live performances — of works nominated for an audience award — on a beautiful outdoor stage surrounded by theater fans.

The BBC Radio 2 Olivier Audience Award, voted for by the public, went to “Les Miserables” — a musical Arizona audiences can enjoy at ASU Gammage come September.

I was struck as well by the tasteful fashions worn by presenters, nominees and recipients — despite the ceremony’s lovely lack of obsession over such things. Way to rock the flats, “Matilda” girls. You’ll need those ankles for future roles.

“Matilda the Musical” led the list with ten nominations, and waltzed away with seven awards. The Royal Shakespeare Company production is based on Roald Dahl’s charming tale.

The musical’s director noted early in the ceremony that “productions are like children” — sharing that he’d still love both if one of two nominees he directed was chosen best new musical. Later, the award went to “Matilda the Musical.”

There’s a point in the musical, he explains, when Matilda pummels three times into her pillow — then looks up and shares the final bit of the story. Seems it’s “a metaphor for the healing power of imagination.”

“Matilda the Musical” director Matthew Warchus then delivered my favorite remarks of the evening — All kids have it. We all have it. Our educational system should promote it more. That was the gist of it — but there’s more.

Creative imagination, says Warchus, is the key to surviving life and improving it for all of us. It’s more important, he reflects, than science, math and testing — perhaps even literacy.

His riff made me wonder — Might more children achieve the literacy we so value if reading and writing were pressed more often into the service of creative imagination rather than the mere consumption of content?

They’re heady things, these British award shows. Words and ideas loom larger than the flashy sorts of sets and such we seem to favor for award shows on this side of the pond. Dry wit and genuine humility trump the faux and flashy.

Sunday’s ceremony included special recognition of the 60th anniversary of “Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap” — which continues to enjoy the theater world’s longest continuous run.

Seems Christie grandson Matthew Prichard, who shared remarks during the presentation, was given rights to the show for his ninth birthday — but admits to feeling fonder at the time of the gift with two wheels. Prichard notes that he gives income earned on the show to lots of charities.

I learned of the Mousetrap Theatre Projects, which serves more than 12,000 students each year, during remarks from its founder — which inspired me to explore other outreach efforts like the SOLT’s own “Autism and Theatre” program.

The Society of London Theatre presented two special awards during this year’s ceremony — one to Dame Monica Mason, honoring her career with the Royal Ballet, and another to lyricist Sir Tim Rice.

Rice shared reflections on the journey of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” from school show to musical theater sensation, and his reluctance to make the original “Jesus Christ Superstar” album — also noting that NYC audiences are fonder by far of current “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita” revivals than NYC theater critics.

My own budding theater critic, Lizabeth, had perfectly lovely things to say about both shows — but did share that seeing Ricky Martin shake his bum during “Evita” was rather the low point of it all. I’ll have to add seeing a slew of West End theatre productions together to my bucket list.

While I adored every performance during Sunday’s Olivier Awards show, a few will likely live longest in my memory — a stunning pas de deux that should be required viewing for all those “Dance Moms” settling for sickening alternatives to actual artistry, the vocal performance of a haunting song from “Whistle Down the Wind” that I first heard when Lizabeth performed it during a Greasepaint Youtheatre fundraiser, and the lavish “Circle of Life” from the cast of “The Lion King” — which made me remember the magic of seeing the musical with Lizabeth long before her NYC theater adventures.

I’ll be more mindful of the bridge between Broadway and the West End thanks to that one magical evening I felt honored to be part of the virtual audience for the 2012 Olivier Awards. London, anyone?

– Lynn

Note: Click here to see the full list of Olivier Award winners and highlights from the ceremony — plus here to enjoy West End news reported by Broadway World.

Coming up: Musings on “Smash” and “New York 22″

Touched with fire?

Victor Hugo, one of many poets believed to have had a mood disorder

There’s nothing romantic about suicide. Or mental illness. Romeo and Juliet make for compelling characters, but no one should envy their fate. Those who champion the cause of suicide prevention are gathering at the Hayden Lawn at ASU in Tempe this Saturday for one of more than 40 “Out of Darkness” walks taking place around the country. They’re being presented by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which estimates that close to one million Americans attempt suicide each year. More than 36,000 Americans die by suicide each year. Think every 15 minutes.

Irving Berlin, one of many composers thought to have had a mood disorder

Depression and suicide get too little attention from a nation that seems at times incapable of focusing on more than a single challenge. I’m all for research and supports for people living with autism, cancer and diabetes. But 1 in 10 American adults report experiencing depression, which also strikes our youth — and it’s a disease that can kill.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention notes that 90% of all suicides are related to some form of mental illness, most often depression — which is actually quite treatable. Events like this Saturday’s “Out of Darkness” walk at ASU, which already has more than 250 registered walkers, remind us all to take suicide seriously — and to support prevention strategies that save lives. “Out of Darkness” campus walks help the foundation with research, education, public awareness, screenings, programs to support survivors of suicide and more, according to Dawn Hunter, chair of the group’s Arizona chapter.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of many writers considered to have had a mood disorder

For folks with a special interest in the intersection of art and mental illness, Kay Redfield Jamison’s “Touched With Fire” is an enlightening read. I first read the work when it was released in 1993. James and I were already several years into our journey of parenting a child with mental illness.

I’m revisiting the book this week, looking for insights into the relationship of creativity to mental illness — because “Touched With Fire,” which is subtitled “Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” is a comprehensive scholarly treatment of a topic that continues to hold great relevance.

Emily Dickinson, one of many poets thought to have had a mood disorder

The book includes an appendix listing writers, artists and composers with “probable cyclothemia, major depression, or manic-depressive illness” — which includes names familiar to those with even a cursory background in arts and  culture.

It seems the longest list belongs to poets. Think William Blake, Robert Burns, Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, Victor Hugo, John Keats, Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Sexton, Walt Whitman and more. Also writers — Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henrik Ibsen, Robert Louis Stevenson, Tennessee Williams, Virginia Woolf and others.

Victor van Gogh, one of many artists thought to have had a mood disorder

Composers on Jamison’s “probable” list include George Frideric Handel, Gustav Mahler, Sergey Rachmaninoff, Robert Schumann and Peter Tchaikovsky — and “nonclassical composers and musicians” noted include Irving Berlin, Noel Coward, Stephen Foster and Cole Porter.

Jamison writes that “Many if not most of these writers, artists and composers had other health problems as well, such as medical illnesses, alcoholism or drug addiction.” Artists on the list include Thomas Eakins, Paul Gaugin, Vincent van Gogh, Michelangelo, Edvard Munch, Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock and many more.

Virginia Woolf, one of many writers thought to have had a mood disorder

“They are listed,” explains Jamison, “…because their mood symptoms predated their other conditions, because the nature and course of their mood and behavior symptoms were consistent with a diagnosis of an independently existing affective illness, and/or because their family histories…coupled with their own symptoms–were sufficiently strong enough to warrant their inclusion.”

For those of you wondering what qualifies Jamison to draw such conclusions, I offer two important facts. Jamison herself is living with manic-depressive illness, also called “bipolar disorder.” And she’s a professor of psychiatry with The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her own struggles with mental illness are recounted in other works she’s published — including “An Unquiet Mind” and “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide.”

Click here to learn more about Saturday’s “Out of Darkness” walk — and here to get additional information about suicide and suicide prevention. “Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens and young adults and the second leading cause of death for college students,” according to Hunter. Every parent, educator and artist should be literate on the topic of suicide prevention because denial is a dangerous thing.

– Lynn

Note: NAMI Walks, another event raising mental health awareness, is scheduled for Oct. 20, 2012 (starting at the Arizona State Capitol). Click here to find additional resources through the Arizona Coalition for Suicide Prevention. Click here for details about an exhibit featuring Vincent van Gogh at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix and here for details about an Arizona Theatre Company production of “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby” at the Herberger Theater Center.

Coming up: More books from Lynn’s library

The normal heart

As AIDS activists mark thirty years since the first report of AIDS, the play “The Normal Heart” is enjoying a successful run on Broadway. It’s been nominated — along with “Arcadia,” “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and “The Merchant of Venice” — for a 2011 Tony Award® for best play revival.

The Normal Heart is nominated for five 2011 Tony Awards

“The Normal Heart” is described by its creators as “the story of a city in denial,” unfolding “as a tight-knit group of friends refuses to let doctors, politicians and the press bury the truth of an unspoken epidemic behind a wall of silence.”

The play was written by Larry Kramer, and performed Off-Broadway in 1985 and 2004. This revival is directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe.

Like many in the Valley, I was mindful today of the many lives taken and affected by AIDS. According to a June 3 story from Reuters, the disease has “infected more than 60 million people and claimed nearly 30 million lives.”

But my thoughts turned as well to families affected by autism spectrum disorder, as I attended a benefit performance of a play titled “Like Everyone Else” — a joint venture of Phoenix Theatre, Arizona School for the Arts and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

On either side of the stage, tall and narrow nooks looked like blackboards — each covered with dozens of colorful chalk words and images. Math problems. Movie slogans. Drawings of animals. Scientific formulas.

They hinted at the diverse but uber-focused interests of people living with autism, a theme mirrored in much of the play’s dialogue.

The work opens as three individuals living with autism share a bit about their unique struggles. But soon a loud chorus of voices on stage conveys a single message: “Everyone is special in their own way.” And a young woman says, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

“Like Everyone Else” gives voice to the concerns, hopes, challenges and dreams of children and adults living with autism spectrum disorders — plus those of parents and siblings. Even friends, teachers and various community members.

A girl argues with her sister. A boy engages his brother in a lightsaber duel. A young man looks for a job. A young woman longs to leave home and live on her own. A SARRC professional helps with various services and supports, and the audience enjoys a filmed tour of the Center.

During one vignette, a young woman in a white labcoat stands in front of a white screen showing a picture of the human brain. She gives a brief but comprehensive overview of autism spectrum disorders, sharing common characteristics of people with autism and noting that 1 in 110 people fall somewhere along the spectrum.

The remarkable use of props and noise elevate the work to a truly rare blend of education and entertainment. Under Xanthia Walker’s direction, the work is warm and humorous rather than preachy. We get it, but leave the theater feeling like we’ve just been handed the most beautiful gift rather than a piece of social commentary.

I spoke with ASA head of school Leah Fregulia-Roberts after the show. She’s grateful that students from ASA’s Theatre for Social Change class had the opportunity to work with SARRC youth. “This must have been a life-changing experience,” reflects Fregulia-Roberts.

Laura Apperson, ASA arts director, hopes to secure funding for future collaborations tackling additional issues facing youth. I suggested depression, of course, since it’s my job to advocate for my own kids — and because experts cite its prevalence at 1 in 10 youth.

She’d also love to see “Like Everyone Else” performed again and again, to raise awareness throughout the community — and to continue showcasing the talents of the remarkable cast and creative team who put it all together. I suspect Robert Kolby Harper, associate artistic director for Phoenix Theatre, agrees.

“It’s amazing,” says Harper, “what can happen when people come together and try to understand each other.”

– Lynn

Note: Click here for information from the folks of “The Normal Heart” about how you can “get involved.”

Coming up: “Annie” tales, Tony® meets AriZoni, From Sondheim to South Park

Play it forward

Phoenix Theater will soon be “playing it forward” with a pair of original works titled “At the End of the Day” and “Like Everyone Else” — both part of a “Weekend of Change” taking place June 3-5 at Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale.

Both works bring “youth theatre for social change” to the stage. Think arts and activism with a local twist. The “Weekend of Change” project has given youth ages 13 to 24 the chance to “participate in theatrical performance designed to create dialogue around social issues affecting an entire community.”

Both are part of the Phoenix Theatre education department, headed by A. Beck, who also serves as theatre arts coordinator for Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix.

The “Theater for Social Change” class at Arizona School for the Arts partnered with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center to develop a work titled “Like Everyone Else.” 

The play is helping students, families and SARRC staff raise community awareness about autism spectrum disorders and the resources provided by SARRC for families affected by them. Click here to enjoy a trailer.

Ticket sales from “Like Everyone Else” — which is being performed Sunday, June 5 at 2pm — will raise funds for SAARC’s “Autism Artisans” program, a “series of art workshops that expose emerging and established artists with autism spectrum disorders ages 13 and older to a variety of art mediums.”

The “Autism Artisans” program at SARRC “utilizes art to promote autism awareness, therapeutic intervention and opportunities for the talents and contributions of individuals with autism spectrum disorders to be recognized.”

My daughter, Lizabeth, is privileged to be a part of the ASA “Theatre for Social Change” class, taught by Xanthia Walker — and also worked with Beck and fellow “QSpeak” youth to develop the other work being presented during Phoenix Theatre’s “Weekend of Change.”

“At the End of the Day: True Stories of LGBTQ and Homeless Youth” is being presented by Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development and QSpeak, both of Phoenix.

QSpeak’s mission is to “provide a safe space for queer youth and their straight allies to engage in community dialogue and affect positive change through storytelling and performance in order to bring awareness to their own lives and experiences.”

Tumbleweed serves youth ages 11-22 in Maricopa County who are “abused, abandoned, troubled, and neglected.” Many are runaways or homeless youth.

Tumbleweed helps these youth to understand and achieve their individual potential, increase their personal and social skills, and “become self-directed, socially responsible, and productive citizens.”

“At the End of the Day” will be performed Fri, June 3 at 7pm — also at Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale. Ticket sales benefit Tumbleweed’s GreenHouse Project, the Valley’s only LGBTQ transitional living program.

Tickets to “At the End of the Day” and “Like Everyone Else” are available online from Brown Paper Tickets or at the door the day of the show. Those wishing to make a donation or secure a sponsorship to support the “Weekend of Change” can contact Beck at Phoenix Theatre.

– Lynn

Coming up: 12 Arizona artists play 20 questions

Choosing a performing arts college

The happy day came just a few weeks ago. Lizabeth, our 17-year-old high school senior, finally got that last college admissions letter. We can all stop clinging to the mailbox, and turn instead to thoughts of mounting college costs and creative contents for care packages.

Lizabeth is in the final stages of deciding where to attend college — a step that follows a host of others. Researching schools. Deciding where to apply. Completing applications. Securing letters of recommendation. Traveling to campus tours and theater program auditions.

And now, revisiting information and observations about her three top choices to determine which college or conservatory feels most like home.

Xanthia Walker holds an M.F.A. in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University in Tempe

For fellow families with children facing similar decisions, I’ve garnered tips from Xanthia Walker, M.F.A. — education associate with Phoenix Theatre, faculty member at Arizona School for the Arts and co-founder of Rising Youth Theatre.

Walker has worked as a resident artist for the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, Free Arts of Arizona and the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.

She currently teaches “Theatre for Social Change” at ASA in Phoenix — where students are developing an original theater production titled “Like Everyone Else” with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

“Choosing a school is a very personally specific decision,” says Walker. “I think a lot of it is about knowing what you want.” Big school or small school? Dedicated college town or urban campus?

My husband James did a lot of work with Lizabeth during the pre-application period to help her identify wants and needs — and to search out schools that seemed to match her interests and priorities.

They put together a notebook with school profiles and such that Lizabeth used all through the appplication process. It was especially helpful during meetings with the ASA college counselor, and now serves as a place to put more detailed information on schools in her top tier (faculty bios, alumni achievements, history of works performed by students, etc.).

Walker encourages students to “sit down and think about what you want out of your college experience.” Make a list with three sections — your wants, your needs and your no-ways. 

Maybe you want to live in a big city, need affordable housing but think having a roommate is out of the question. It’s best to consider these factors early in the process — even visiting possible schools before applying when feasible.

“As a student,” shares Walker, “I learned so much about the schools I was considering that I would have had no way of understanding had I not been able to physically be in the spaces.” She’s a strong proponent of site visits for both undergraduate and graduate programs.

“Meeting the students and professors, getting the vibe of the school community, actually having face to face conversations with people and taking a tour of the department/campus — and even sitting in on some classes directly influenced my choices, and even changed my mind,” she adds.

“What I thought I would love pre-visit,” reflects Walker, “was different than what I actually loved post-visit.”

Though there’s plenty of buzz about “the best” schools in the country for those studying performing arts, Walker says it’s better to think in terms of “best departments” instead of “best schools.” Not every school excels in every area. “Look at the specific departments where you will be spending your time,” suggest Walker, “and compare that way.”

There’s also the “college” versus “conservatory” question. Again, Walker says there’s no better option — just the need to match what’s offered with what a student is looking for.

I’ll share more of Walker’s thoughts on the college/conservatory questions, and her tips for evaluating specific theater departments and programs, in tomorrow’s post.

In the meantime, please comment below if you’re a college or theater professional with tips to share — or a parent or student who has found certain approaches/strategies helpful in the great “choosing a performing arts college” debate.

– Lynn

Note: Click here for information on the ASU M.F.A. Theatre for Youth program and here to read an ASU profile of Walker.

Coming up: Choosing between college theater programs

Walking with Glenn Close

Sisters Glenn and Jessie Close

Most folks know a little something about actress Glenn Close—that she stars in the hit TV series “Damages” or that she played “Alex Forrest” opposite Michael Douglas in the movie “Fatal Attraction.”

But did you know that she’s also a three-time Tony Award winner, best known to Broadway buffs for her brilliant portrayal of “Norma Desmond” in the Andrew Lloyd Webber production of “Sunset Boulevard?”

Or that she recently partnered with several organizations to create a non-profit dedicated to combating stigma against those living with mental illness?

Bring Change 2 Mind” notes that “1 in 6 adults and almost 1 in 10 children suffer from a diagnosable mental illness” and that the stigma associated with mental illness “can be as great a challenge as the disease itself.”

Close describes her very personal connection to mental illness in a piece recently published by The Huffington Post. Take a moment to read it, because Close tells her story better than I might tell it for her.

Families living with mental illness have long sought someone with Close’s insight and influence to help champion the cause. But who, we all wondered, would step forward—knowing the impact it might have on personal and professional ties.

I learned about Bring Change to Mind from my 16-year-old daughter Lizabeth, who discovered it online.

She couldn’t wait to tell me about it, because we’ve often wondered why children and teens with mental illness—who face dangerous risks from substance abuse to suicide—receive so little attention and empathy.

We’ve faithfully supported the work of friends and fellow students who champion the cause of children living with autism, diabetes, cancer or another serious condition.

Yet we’re heartbroken that the chronic health conditions our family members face are still met with blame, laughter or indifference.

This weekend you have the opportunity to help us change that…

Bring Change to Mind has partnered with one of the country’s leading mental health organizations, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, to promote nationwide walks to raise awareness about the impact of mental illness on individuals, families and communities.

NAMI WALKS take place in three Arizona locations this year, including a 1pm walk Sunday (March 28) at Tempe Beach Park at Tempe Town Lake (registration begins at noon).

If you need a little inspiration to get out there and support the cause, check out this public service announcement featuring Glenn Close, who participated in last year’s walk near her home.

Loving and living with a family member battling bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or other form of mental illness forges the character and consciousness in unexpected ways.

You see it in the works of playwright Tennessee Williams, who grew up with a sister battling schizophrenia, and so many other artists forged in the fire of uncertainty these conditions bring.

I’m grateful to Glenn Close for the time, tenderness and tenacity she brings to raising awareness and reducing stigma on behalf of her sister and her nephew—and for inviting each of us to walk with her.

–Lynn

Note: Today I’m going to begin writing two daily blogs. The first, of course, is the arts blog I cherish writing for Raising Arizona Kids Magazine. The second is a blog that won’t be immediately published but will, instead, evolve into a book featuring essays about parenting and mental illness. I welcome your input and will keep you posted on my progress.

Coming up: A review of opening night for “The Glass Menagerie,” a profound play by Tennessee Williams being performed by Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix through April 11

Musings on art and mental illness

I remember a particularly moving art exhibit I saw many years ago at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix. I was attending a reception celebrating the development of the Arizona Child Study Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, which works to “improve the quality of life for children, adolescents and families affected by mental, emotional, behavioral or developmental disorders.”

The exhibit featured artwork by youth who’ve experienced trauma. The works were gathered by the NYU Child Study Center, on which the Arizona Child Study Center is modeled, and are part of a collection gathered for a book titled “Childhood Revealed: Art Expressing Pain, Discovery and Hope.” I’m not sure where I first stumbled upon this book, but once I did, I was mesmerized. The young artists’ stories were compelling, their artwork complex and strangely stirring.

The book may have had special appeal because I was already familiar with one of its authors, Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., who co-authored a book called “It’s Nobody’s Fault: New Hope and Help for Difficult Children and Their Parents.” (The co-author is Robin F. Goodman.) In an age when blame and shame too often haunt those living with mental illness, this work makes clear the biological basis of depression and other conditions that affect our youth.

With greater understanding comes greater acceptance.

Art Awakenings is a program that fosters and features the artwork of Arizona youth and adults living with various types of mental illness—from anxiety to schizophrenia. It was established in 2000 by the PSA (People Service Action) Behavioral Health Agency and has the following mission: “To promote empowerment and recovery through the power of creative expression with adults and youth who face behavioral health challenges.”

Art Awakenings works are displayed at various locations throughout the Valley—and well worth experiencing.

While advocates for youth with autism are making great strides, many families living with childhood mental illness feel their struggles too often go unnoticed or ignored. Autism advocates note that approximately 1 in 100 youth are affected, while mental health advocates note that about 1 in 5 children experience a mental illness.

I’m not sure why the one cause elicits more attention than the other. Both are way-beyond-worthy. If art can help us understand any of these conditions better, or open the hearts of relatives, neighbors, teacher, policy makers and others to those living with these challenges, I’m all for it.

Especially knowing the genuine risks facing youth with depression, including suicide, we can no longer be complacent about the 1 in 10 amongst us who live with symptoms serious enough to cause significant impairment in home, school and community settings.

Some find parallels between the minds of those living with mental illness and those gifted with exceptional creativity. The book “Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament” isn’t an easy read, but it’s a satisfying one. Author Kay Redfield Jamison, M.D., who disclosed her own battle with bipolar depression only many years after this scholarly work on the subject, looks at the possible connections between what was once termed manic depression and creativity in a variety of the arts. I leave it to you to consider whether and what the association.

Maybe your child is wrestling with emotions you find it hard to understand. Maybe your child is facing a possible mental health diagnosis. Maybe your child’s life has never been personally punctuated by mental illness. Maybe you’ve lived for years with the unique lessons, strengths and puzzlements that life with mental illness can bring.

Whatever your own story, I suspect you’ll find the artwork in “Childhood Revealed,” and in the Valley’s many Art Awakenings exhibits, evocative and provocative.

Go there.

–Lynn