The art of mental health

Feeling sad, stressed or anxious while coping with COVID-19 is normal. It's not only the fear and anxiety about the coronavirus disease but also being away from schools, friends and relatives. Adjusting to new ways of learning and working is hard. But guess what? You are not alone.

This site and all the content in it was developed by participants of UNICEF's Youth Mediathon who were challenged to reimagine mental health and wellbeing for every child: Takudzwanashe Charlene Ndangana, Hala Alcoutlabi, Kamsi Muoka, Oluwayomi Zeblon, Dominique Ogreanu, Vatsal Mehta and Oluwayomi Zeblon, under the mentorship of Kavervir Sidhu and DuBose Cole.


A poem by Kamsi Muoka, 20, Nigeria
It is okay
To be jailed by your fears
And trapped in the snare
Of your insecurities and flaws

It is okay
To dwell in the warmth of loneliness
Cheered by the chirping sound of crickets
And the twinkling of the stars

It is okay
To sneak up in bed broken
Aching at your defeats
And tucking tightly to your breath

It is okay
To not be okay
But it is better
To break the silence

And speak out!


Hala Yehia
"Don't let your negative thoughts control you, instead let the positive ones flourish. I draw this by hand then I colored it in photoshop. It took a while actually to come up with something that expresses the way a lot of people experienced in such difficult times and give them hope and persistence to focus on their mental health until it blooms."

Dominique Ogreanu, 17, Romania

Art. We see it, we feel it, we are touched by it in many diverse ways, sometimes unconsciously. And what we might not be aware of is its effect on our mental health. 

Considered a taboo topic in many countries, the issue of our mental health has had a light shone upon as the pandemic forced us to spend more time alone with our thoughts. Exploring the depths of our intellectual maze can be tricky, especially if we tend to overanalyze our feelings and reactions and, soon, we might be caught off guard by haunting questions such as Am I good enough? Am I doing enough? Why can’t I fit in?

But how are art and mental health related? I believe that through art, the highest expression of self, we rediscover ourselves, we free ourselves, we create a world that heals us in every way possible.

 I have invited seven of my artist friends to talk about the close-knit relationship between art and mental health.

Meet Ana, 18 (painter), Amza, 18 (photographer & sketcher), Iasmina, 16 (piano enthusiast & painter), Bianca, 16 (painter & guitar enthusiast), Ariana, 18 (poet), Lucian, 16 (actor & music enthusiast), Teodora, 18 (singer), Chris, 18 (writer).

Meet Ana, 18 (painter), Amza, 18 (photographer & sketcher), Iasmina, 16 (piano enthusiast & painter), Bianca, 16 (painter & guitar enthusiast), Ariana, 18 (poet), Lucian, 16 (actor & music enthusiast), Teodora, 18 (singer), Chris, 18 (writer).
How did art help you maintain your balance during stressful periods?
❤️ Ana: It helped by becoming a bridge between me and my inner voice. When I sit with myself in silence, the feelings of my soul become projected through art. Give yourself time and colors will express what is inside you - this is the key to balance. Love colors and they will love you back. The better you know them, the more it revives your life and lifts your soul.

🧡 Amza: Art was, for me, the best way to keep my balance in stressful times because once caught in the creative process, what is around you disappears. It's just you and the pencil in a bubble, away from everyday problems.

💛 Iasmina: When I happen to have stressful times, when I feel like I'm losing some balance, art plays a major role in helping me stay afloat. I do not do this consciously - turn to art when my psyche is not in the best shape. Art is part of my life anyway, whether I paint or play the piano or the guitar, so I don't associate stressful moments with my artistic activity. It was my mother who first did this. She told me the other day that she knows if I'm upset or stressed when she suddenly hears me play the piano. Being a piano teacher, she somehow distinguishes the way I release all my emotions and thoughts through what I sing. So, unconsciously, art helps me maintain my balance in difficult times by transposing my emotions and feelings into what I am creating.
Use a single word to describe what you feel when you are creating.
🧡 Amza: Freedom. Art gives you a certain freedom that other things cannot give you. You are free to create, to express yourself exactly as you want, without anyone judging you. Art does not impose limits or rules on you. Art lets you be yourself.

💙 Ariana: Originality. The fact that I am true to what I feel, and I never hide away from the feelings that take over, help me be honest with myself and transpose my soul on the paper, thinking and feeling with my heart.

💜 Teodora: Love. So much to express in just a few words. Ever since I was little, I had a passion for everything that is art: music, painting, poetry, so I chose to create. It was my destiny to fall utterly in love with creation.
Do you think there is a link between art and mental health?
❤️ Ana: Absolutely! It is the drop that will help you cultivate a state of well-being every day through the 7 functions of art: remembrance, hope, suffering, rebalancing, self-understanding, growth, and appreciation. Think about how we are influenced by the colors of nature: how the sun's rays fill us with happiness and optimism, how the shades of green of the forest give us a feeling of peace and tranquility, how a gray sky makes us want to stay in bed, nestled under the covers. All these are subconscious or unconscious reactions that we have to colors, that is, art.

💙 Ariana: Art is either a way of spiritual and psychic/sentimental liberation or a metaphorical "garment" that clothes your soul and empties it of loneliness or contradictory states. The mind, this human edifice, is the center from which everything generally starts. When everyday life suffocates the balanced activity of the mind, it seeks a way to heal itself. And how else, if not through art?

💛 Iasmina: Art gives me incredible energy or a shoulder to cry on. Every time I'm stressed or sad, I somehow push myself into my art and I know that, when I get up from the office, in four or five hours (that's where I paint), or from the piano, I'll be calm, reconciled and most likely, I will have a solution to the problems I face. I can feel how my mental health is kept afloat by art, but I know for sure that it is not just me who feels this way.
Do you see art as a form of escapism, of liberation?
💚 Bianca: Art is meant for liberation: liberation from problems, from worries, from stress. The more you delve into a specific topic, the more you will neglect the negative feelings that drove you into this. That means liberation through art for me. Whether I paint or listen to music, read or play the guitar, art always helps me find myself, especially in the difficult situations we all go through.

❤️ Chris: Yes. Art is one of the most liberating forms of expression. When I write, I don't care what happens outside of the universes I create. Through writing, I can build situations in which I talk about the problems I have. For example, when I feel the need to tell someone how stressed I am I write a paragraph or a scene in which my characters are under pressure and trying to solve their problems.

💜 Teodora: I don't think there is another antidote to healing my heart. First of all, I will talk about music because it is the field that defines me the most and I will continue with the fact that it tells me how to live, makes me happy, relieves my pain, helps me express my thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about keeps me alive.

💙 Lucian: Absolutely! How many times, after a hard day, did we throw ourselves onto the bed, put our headphones on, and listened to music? It's a way to set you free. Personally, when I create/play a character, I feel an inner joy that takes over my body. Art helps you develop your imagination and that is a way to liberate yourself from day to day problems.

Now, arriving at the end of this article, you might ask yourselves why I used the colors of the rainbow to represent the artists. It is an ode to the complexity of mental health - there isn’t a universal experience. We might have similar feelings, but we perceive them differently. Just like colors - they are all used for art, however, the messages they are sending depend on the combinations used.

Rainbows are hope and love. They are a symbol that we don’t have to face the same battle twice. Know that you are not alone in your struggle, and let your spirit bloom, for once at least, through the miracles of creation.


Video by Oluwayomi Zeblon, 20, Nigeria

3, 2, 1... 🏃🏿‍♀️

Takudzwanashe Ndangana

The Race, a short story by Takudzwanashe Ndangana, 23, Zimbabwe

"The crowd is cheering but the loud cheering and singing annoys me these days. Would it be wrong if I said that the cheering and the screams are as good as the buzzing sound of bees? The track has become a part of me, on some days I even meditate or daydream whilst running the 100 meter race. I know that the girls from my class hate me but hard work is the reason I always take the golden trophy home, be it in Drama club, Chess club, athletics team or even in the academic field. I really like Dean a lot but I do not understand why he always makes fun of me..."

Keep reading Takudzwanashe's story here.




Kamsi Muoka is a 20-year-old freelance writer, public speaker and volunteer from Nigeria. She runs the podcast "Let's Talk With Kam Kam", a safe space for every young person on discussions about everything that bothers young people and the society.

"I believe every child has a right to basic education. With the alarming rate of homeless, abandoned and roaming kids on the streets of Nigeria, I can't help but worry about what becomes of these children who are supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow."

Hala Alcoutlabi is a 22-year-old graphic designer from Syria. Check out her works here.

"I’d like to share my story with art and how it helped me through the rough times. I decided to complete my studies in art therapy to help children to express their feelings and disabilities throughout art."

Dominique Ogreanu is a Romanian 12th grader keen on social inclusion, preventing domestic violence, and destigmatizing mental health. She has been involved in initiatives such as Girl Up Romania, Children’s Board at UNICEF in Romania and UN Youth Delegates in Romania.

"I’ve created a podcast called Peda Talks in which we address the issue of healing after a toxic relationship, we approach the signs of leaving a harmful bond and we talk about how we can get help after harassment."

Oluwayomi Zeblon is a 20-year-old podcaster and a Public Health advocate from Nigeria who also creates videos.

"As a youth advocate I care about topics relating to mental health, public health and nutrition. I am also the coordinator of a youth movement #operationsanitize which helps to ensure and promote the hygiene of citizens in Nigeria."

Takudzwanashe C. Ndangana is a 23-year-old author from Zimbabwe who enjoyes writing stories and bringing her characters to life.

"In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic people have been going through a lot. In my country a few people take the issue of mental health seriously and it comes about with a lot of discrimination. As a way of addressing this problem I have created a podcast as way of educating and informing people about different issues and keeping them entertained. I believe that our stories matter and all we need is to have a voice to tell them."

Vatsal Mehta is a 18-year-old from India who loves to connect with people globally. Vatsal has a poetry blog on Instagram and recently launched a podcast to enhance the quality of life that throbs within each one of us. 

"One of the issues I really care about is cognitive and spiritual well-being of youth. I believe that through my content I will be able to spread awareness regarding the wisdom of life necessary to thrive in this day and age along with helping fight depression."