KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT) — “I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for art,” Joshua Blankinship said.
Inside Blankinship’s studio in Kinston holds a sense of purpose.
“Allows my brain to shut off for a while,” Blankinship said. “And then when I’m finished with a piece, my brain is literally too tired, you know, to race … Everything that I paint are those emotions put onto canvas.”
Blankinship has been an artist for more than 15 years. With the recommendation of a therapist, he decided to try art therapy.
“That really goes back to being diagnosed with mental illness of bipolar disorder … It changed my life,” Blankinship said.
According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is defined as “an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”
Blankinship said he feels the life-changing effects. He isn’t alone in finding therapy through art. The American Art Therapy Association says thousands are helping people like Josh find ways to express themselves.
“Art therapy can be very very helpful as part of the treatment for minor or all mental disorders or by itself,” said Dr. Sy Atezaz Saeed, executive director of Behavioral Health at ECU Health and a professor at East Carolina University. “Some really, really beautiful art has been produced by the pain of mental illness. That’s one way to channel the distress and the intensity of their emotion into a very positive thing.”
“Basically, what I do is I paint things that, that I love or enjoy, you know, for my mental health, it’s a great way for me to start a conversation about it with people who see my work,” Blankinship said.
Blankinship shared why it’s so important to talk about the topic of mental health.
“If we don’t talk about it, then it’s something you had at that point. You’re just carrying more baggage,” Blankinship said.
He said the feeling of finishing a painting gives him value.
“What’s more powerful than creating positive feelings? You know, like, like, it’s incredible, to think something that I did would make somebody smile, or maybe have a better day,” Blankinship said. “That’s the fuel. Like, they, they really makes me want to continue painting.
“The worst thing about depression is that it sucks away your joy. So anytime that you can give [joy] to someone else. I mean, like, what better gift can you give.”
“We also live in times where care for mental illness has never been more effective,” Saeed said. “People do recover and they can still manage their day-to-day life effectively and carry on with whatever it is their purpose in life and find meaning in life.”
Saeed shared the following resources for those who need them:
NC Department of Health & Human Services: Statewide Telepsychiatry Program
NC Department of Health & Human Services: Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services
You can call the NAMI Helpline at 800-950-6264 or chat with them M-F from 10 am to 10 pm. In a crisis, NAMI says text NAMI to 741741 for 24/7 confidential free counseling.