Mental Health & The Arts

Why Mental Health & The Arts?

Engaging the Arts as a lens through which to encounter, educate, and understand mental illness represents a poignant and powerful tool that has the capacity to traverse cultural boundaries and societal stigma. The resources and programs found in this section represent only a handful of the various programs, initiatives, and ventures that utilize the Arts to give voice to an all-too-common human affliction: mental illness.


Love is EleMENTAL 2019: Cabaret Performance

Click through for photos

February 11, 2019, Joe’s Pub.

The third Love is EleMENTAL Program featured a cabaret performance, with each piece centered around themes of mental health and illness. It was a magical evening, highlighting the power of the arts to advance mental health advocacy through personal storytelling, music, and dance.

Led by Peter Hermann as Master of Ceremonies, each performer poignantly showcased the theme of mental health and left the audience overwhelmed with emotion, laughter, and awe. To begin the night, Broadway star Syndee Winters sang Believe in Yourself from The Wiz, and showed how our greatest achievements in life often start with an inspiration. Celebrating life affirming connection, Emmy and Grammy Award-winning songwriter and composer Chris Jackson joined Syndee to sing Can You Feel the Love Tonight. Grammy-winning and Emmy-nominated songwriter and producer Desmond Child took to the stage with all-time hit Livin’ On A Prayer and the song Weird, a piece that speaks to not fitting in, feeling out of place, overwhelmed and a little bit weird – a near universal experience at moments for all of us; an all-to-familiar and long-lasting state of being for people with mental illness due to ignorance and discrimination. Concert pianist Elaine Kwon performed a Prelude by composer Rachmaninoff – an artist who struggled with depression his entire life but learned to manage it and use it to fuel his creative works. The evening concluded with world class tap dancer, Chris Erk, dancing with partners to Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean A Thing (if it ain’t got that swing). The entire event was a buoyant celebration of the arts, the artists, and all the support from everyone in attendance.


Love is EleMENTAL: Eve Ensler’s In The Body of the World

Click through for photos

February 9, 2018, New York City Center.

This past Friday, our second Love is EleMENTAL Program centered around Eve Ensler’s performance of her personal memoir, In the Body of the World. It was a riveting ninety minutes that drilled to the heart of humanity and what happens when stripped bare and vulnerable, someone finds courage and strength and a life that is finally grounded in her body and in her world. A standing ovation met the closing line of the show.

Friends of the Global Mental Health Program were treated to a pre-show discussion led by Gwendolyn Alker, NYU Director of Theatre Studies, who described Eve as a woman ahead of her time. Following Eve’s moving solo performance, Dr Kathleen Pike had the opportunity to ask thoughtful and pertinent questions in a TalkBack with Eve who shared more of her story and her passion for humanitarian work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly the “transformational” leadership community for women survivors of violence, City of Joy.

Read Dr Pike’s musings on Eve Ensler in this edition of Five on Friday. We look forward to celebrating Love, The Arts and Mental Health with you in our 2019 Love is EleMENTAL program.


Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 6.15.56 PM


Love is EleMENTAL: Dear Evan Hansen

February 14, 2017, Broadway.

Valentine’s Day 2017 was one for the books, as over two hundred friends and supporters of the Global Mental Health Program at Columbia University gathered to take in the creative genius of Broadway’s newest musical sensation, Dear Evan Hansen.

The evening raised over $170,000 for our research and program initiatives worldwide – and deepened the conversation on identity, belonging, and mental wellness in our modern world.

To all those who came out: Our heartfelt thank you.



Research on the Arts + Mental Illness Nexus:

Find below some pertinent articles on the interdisciplinary nature of the Arts and Mental Health:

  • Potash, J. S., Ho, R. T. H., Chick, J. K. Y., & Au Yeung, F. S. W. (2013). Viewing and engaging in an art therapy exhibit by people living with mental illness: implications for empathy and social change. Public Health, 127, 735-744. [PDF]
  • Koh, E., & Shrimpton, B. (2013). Art promoting mental health literacy and a positive attitude towards people with experience of mental illness. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 1-6. [PDF]
  • Rustin, T. A. (2008). Using artwork to understand the experience of mental illness: mainstream artists and outsider artists. GMS Psycho-Social Medicine, 5. [PDF]
  • Stickley, T., & Duncan, K. (2007). Art in Mind: implementation of a community arts initiative to promote mental health. Journal of Public Mental Health, 6(4), 24-32. [PDF]