Mentally ill often have trouble expressing themselves

Sunday, May 12, 2002

People diagnosed with panic disorders, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress syndrome or obsessive-compulsive disorders often have a difficult time finding the right words to describe what they are thinking and feeling.

So it's often easier for them to use dance, music, drama, painting, sculpture, writing and other art forms to express themselves.

"Any kind of creative expression can help a medically or mentally ill client," said Diane Whitten, an advanced registered nurse practitioner in psychiatry at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. "There's a fine line between creativity and mental illness. Maybe that's because they see things differently."

Whitten said engaging in the creative process can change the physiology of a person's body, because during the process certain types of hormones and chemicals are released. For example, she said, the brain's neurotransmitters can emit endorphins, which are hormones with pain-killing or tranquilizing ability.

"All of these things boost the immune system," she said. "Just viewing art can do those things."

The arts also can act as a bridge between the mentally ill and others in the community. Artists need people to buy their paintings; musicians need listeners for their music; and dancers need to be seen on stage.

"This is important to the mentally ill who are often isolated," she said.