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"Art definitely saved my life." Baltimore teen works to break down stigma around mental health

Johns Hopkins hosting Art & Medicine Symposium Tuesday
Posted at 6:45 PM, Nov 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-04 18:45:38-05

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — "I think that art definitely saved my life. It saved my life for sure," said Erica Wright.

18-year-old Erica Wright discovered the power of art in middle school.

"It was really hard at home. We were pretty poor and there was a lot of stuff going on at home... I struggled a lot with depression and having the art program after school to just go to and kind of get away from home and things like that, it was really therapeutic," said Wright. "It's been a way for me to understand my emotions and understand what I've been through and understand and kind of overcome all of that."

After finishing middle school in New York, she moved down to Baltimore for high school. Shortly after, she knew she wanted to help others discover its healing power too.

"A lot of families in Baltimore are minority communities and especially as black and Latino, neither of those sides of my family talked about mental health but it still impacts us the most. School is where students spend their time at, and it they are going to spend their time there, you should teach them stuff that impacts them. I think a lot of people feel alone because their families don't talk about it," said Wright.

Her junior year, she had the opportunity to work with Medicine for the Greater Good at Johns Hopkins and her art program- Speak Art- was born. In the first two years, she worked with elementary and middle school students, teaching them art techniques and talking to them about how art can be used to cope.

"For a lot of them, it was their first time hearing and learning about what mental health was," said Wright. "I believe that having mental health programs in general in schools and having them connected to art is so important because it's such an easy way and therapeutic way and also a low cost way to talk about mental health."

Her struggle with depression continues daily but now she's using her voice to help even more people. Tuesday, she will join medical professionals and community activists on a panel at the Art and Medicine Symposium at Hopkins Bayview. It won't just be about impacts to mental health, but physical health too.

"I can't thing of any medical intervention that's as immediate, as affordable as readily accessible to anybody," said researcher Susan Magsamen.

Magsamen is the executive director of the International Arts and Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins. She will be on the panel too.

"The symposium really offers the opportunity to look at things like mental health, well being and physical health through the lens of something that's available to you instantly. You can make art this second. You can pick up a pen and you can do expressive writing. You can do a drawing," said Magsmen.

While that sounds easy, Erica knows that changing the stigma around mental health with art will take time.

"I think it we could just take that away and understand that change is possible and it really starts with one community and one person at a time," said Wright. "I think art has the power to save lives, as corny or cheesy as that may sound. It's really true. There's something about art that allows you to express how you feel without putting it into words."

Medicine for the Greater Good's Art and Medicine: Partners for Healthier Communties symposium runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Asthma and Allergy Building at Bayview. The keynote speaker, director of the film "Charm City" Marilyn Ness, will speak first, followed by the panel.