CLH: Finding connection and hope at the intersection of Arts & Culture and Mental Health

Oct 6, 2023 | News & Events

Our most recent Community Lunch Hour highlighted the intersection of arts, culture, and mental well-being. Jenny Riggenbach, our Foundation CEO, was joined by Trina Bierman, Bill Schierl, and Maggie Marquardt. The panel examined the challenges many face regarding mental health in our area and highlighted how arts and culture can provide a therapeutic avenue for those who may be struggling. 

Some sobering statistics emerged during this session:

  • According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, among high school students in Portage County, 50% reported grappling with sustained feelings of anxiety and sadness. Even more concerning, 19% admitted to contemplating or attempting suicide in the past year, with 13% having a definite plan in place.
  • The Portage County Life Report found a startling increase in emergency room visits in our county. For youth under 18, there’s been a 50% rise in visits due to self-harm injuries. 
  • They also shared CAP Services’ Mental Health Navigation program saw a 200% surge in people reaching out for support. This may be a sign of the increasing struggles our community members face–or a testament to the growing awareness and engagement with available resources.

The panelists found that feelings of loneliness and isolation have become more common, often leading to anxiety, depression, and self-harm–and raised additional concerns. 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide last year compared to 12% of other youth. (2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health). 

Yet, amidst these challenges, there’s hope. The panelists could point to the breadth of arts and cultural treasures in our community. Create Portage County, for example, has been at the forefront with initiatives like the Levitt AMP Music Series, community-driven art projects, and gatherings that unite artists. These initiatives offer entertainment, foster connections, and affirm the value of every individual. The Idea Center is a convening point for creatives from diverse fields to connect, collaborate, and find comfort. Artists like Kiba Freeman shared how the artist meetups hosted at the Idea Center help reduce isolation among creatives and foster collaboration and networking. As a result, some have found new clients and creative partnerships from these interactions. 

Maggie spoke of the importance of social bonding and social bridging. Maggie compares “social bonding” to superglue, experiences that bring together individuals with shared interests, such as woodcarvers or gamers meeting weekly. On the other hand, she describes “social bridging” as the WD-40, easing the way for diverse individuals to connect, even if they come from different backgrounds or perspectives. Events like the Levitt AMP music series provide moments to foster both bonding and bridging. Furthermore, these opportunities help showcase underrepresented artists in central Wisconsin that can be powerful symbols for our youth. 

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Cap Services offers a variety of activities, including speakers and resource fairs, to promote mental health education each May. This year, they introduced a mural-themed bingo card to engage the community and invite them to explore the outdoors. They saw a great turnout of folks who visited local art sites to win gas cards, with some murals offering mental health information and resources. A simple and fun exercise that encourages people to get out and explore, it also made the mental health conversation more approachable. 

If you’re considering ways to help those who might be in need – below are some ideas shared by our speakers. 

While professional interventions are indispensable, our arts and culture options can provide some support, fostering bonds and providing tools for individuals to navigate life’s challenges. We, as a community, can champion our local arts endeavors and be an ally to those around us who may be silently struggling.

Stay connected. Stay supportive. Take action. 

Additional Resources:

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