In recent years, mental health issues has garnered a bit of attention, following the outcry from international celebrities and top governmental officials.
In 2018, we have seen the demise of CNN’s Anthony Bourdaine and Top Fashion Designer Kate Spade.
It is becoming crystal clear that mental health issues can affect anyone of any class. As its awareness is being raised, a pathway to a sustainable stable mental health has been sought.
The discourse about mental health decline is up for debate and we can talk about that in a later piece.
The solution, however, has taken different forms, from psychotherapy to counseling, motivational Interviewing, Solution Focused Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.
One of the places that have been least looked upon for a panacea in the fight to improve mental health is Art.
One could ask what exactly has art got to possibly offer in a health discourse? If you ask Karen Pence, the wife of the Vice president of the United States and the founder of healing with a heART, She would tell you that it involves “Enriching lives of individuals going through some sort of mental health crisis with active art making, creative process and applying psychological theory within a psycho therapeutic relationship”.
Karen Pence’s initiative promotes mental health through active art making. The efficacy of her initiative is without doubt, outstanding, but what if this can be improved upon using a medium we all know too well?
What if that same process could be achieved when that art is brought to you visually. We introduce you to the man in the forefront of that awareness. He’s a doctor who has devoted his degree to creating films that address mental health issues, Dr. Victor Okoye Frank.
An Award winning filmmaker, known for one his earliest works “creative minds”, that earned him the best director of a short documentary at Africa’s most prestigious short film festival Afrinolly in 2014. The theory being put to test in his work is this –
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According to an ongoing research at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, -A magneto encephalography (Meg Scan) of the brain reveals a very interesting brain activity when a human is exposed to some form of art. The brain has a specific reaction to different forms of art, be it music, still pictures or motion pictures. Understanding that pattern in the brain has helped psychotherapists during therapy sessions to evoke very specific response in different areas of the brain, eliciting a desired effect.
Take that research and merge it with what we know from Behavioral Science., humans are known to change their behaviors based on experiences.
We tend to lean towards the known more than the unknown, which explains why you are more likely to buy a product you have seen the ad more times than the one you barely know anything about.
In the human brain, a very important yet complex system called the limbic system, exists.
It is situated just above the brain stem containing key four structures; the hypothalamus, the amygdala, the thalamus and the hippocampus.
Within the discourse of emotional behavior, the hypothalamus is mostly associated with the Autonomic Nervous System, the amygdala is linked with anger, fear and anxiety, the hippocampus, with long term memories and the thalamus, with sensory relay centers
The visual pathway runs through the thalamus to the primary visual center in the calcarine sulcus of the occipital lobe of the brain, which loops back to the thalamus, which is linked to the prefrontal cortex – an area responsible for decision making and active planning.
When a person watches a video – be it about yoga or some cat-dancing on YouTube – The visual pathway sends these images through the thalamus to the hippocampus where this memory is stored and it becomes a point of reference for whenever a similar situation arises.
In the medical setting, patients with chronic depression have been increasingly found to have issues with the prefrontal cortex-limbic system.
A psychotherapist’s work on patients with chronic depression involves helping the person overcome this cognitive deficit by pointing out specific examples of how the attitude or perception of the patient influences how they react to the world and, in turn, shapes their experiences.
Dr. Okoye’s work builds upon that theory and it can be summarized as: If a person’s feelings and actions are influenced by what they see and hear, that knowledge can be employed in cases of mental health crisis, by creating an art work that provides a point of reference for the individual, such that it gives them a new perspective on what they are going through.
This means creating a real story, one that is relatable to the patient, and presenting it in a manner that is as entertaining and captivating as you can get, then ask a question, and your patient will find an answer.
People leave cinemas and wish to become the character they just saw on the big screen, sometimes referencing them in their everyday lives.
This goes to show that motion pictures have such strong effects and the time to find a much more critical use for them beyond entertainment and escapism is now.
Victor’s work “Purpose” is currently being played across schools in the United States as part of counseling programs organized by Art With Impact. His feature film “Jidenna” is set to debut in the fall of 2019.