The art of healing

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Mental health issue is no longer a topic discussed behind closed doors. More and more people have become aware of it and even address it by exposing.

According to Public Health Statistics (2014-2016), mental health problems per 100,000-population in 2016 revealed that 9 people reported with psychosis, 6 people had depression, 7 people showed anxiety and mental retardation, 5 stayed with epilepsy, and 120 depended on alcohol. 

Mental healthcare in Myanmar depends mainly on the two specialised hospitals in Yangon and Mandalay. About 60% of inpatient beds in mental hospitals are still occupied by chronic patients. (Ref: The Republic of the Union of Myanmar Health System Review 2014)

What this survey reveals is that the government hospitals are obviously overpopulated. So this begs a question: Is there an alternative way to heal people with mental disorders? Yes, according to Aung Clinic.

The clinic held an art exhibition “The Room” on 1st August, showcasing the paintings drawn by 25 people with mental disorders. This is also a fruition of the idea of the clinic to help patients heal through art therapy.

Dr San San Oo, the leader of the initiative, said: “I’ve been working on this concept since 2010 but it was miniature. Then I received a fund from Open Society Foundation in 2016 and somehow I managed to expand my clinic.”

Aung Clinic provides help to people of all ages with mild to severe mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, PTSD, psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

It offers different types of support tailored to each patient’s condition, including counselling, psychiatric medication, support groups, medical care and vocational skills training. 

“We have different approaches with different patients, nearly 200 and art therapy is just one of them,” said the psychiatrist who is also working as the head counsellor at the facility.

The one-day event exhibited about 200 paintings of different sizes. At the centre was Nyo Min Win whose portraits received attention and applause of many visitors.

Nyo Min Win, or just Min, had suffered from bipolar disorder and sought medical attention since 2003. 

“I’ve been drawing people’s faces since 2016 when I was admitted to Aung Clinic. I used to overthink everything and I noticed that drawing makes me calm.”

Min also had an anger issue due to his condition. When he started receiving art therapy, he showed particular interest in passport and licence photos. His therapist took notice and showed him photos of different people without telling him who they were.

He chose the photos he thought were simple to draw. His paintings at the exhibition portrayed various philosophers and writers from Buddha to Sigmund Freud. There were also portraits of some mundane people he knew on Facebook simply named “Facebook Friend”.

Another artwork that caught my eyes was the one named “Emotional Demon”. The picture looked scary, yet sad. When I asked around, I learned that the artist behind the painting was called Khin, a patient with PTSD, who loves using bright colours.

When asked about the potential of the therapy, Dr San San Oo replied: “Globally, art is being used in many situations. The therapists need experience with different forms of art, of course. In countries like Japan, art therapy is widely used as an alternative remedy for psychological health which also a subject to research extensively.” 

She stated that art therapy was successful because the patients at the clinic showed a significant improvement in their moods and behaviours and there were also fewer relapses. 

“We have an experienced art therapist at the clinic. Also, many former patients stay around and help the newcomers. This peer system allows us to observe how much the patients understand the therapy and its benefits.”

Min is now one of those seniors, helping new patients with their work. 

“Many think that people with a mental illness are impractical. So I want to help other people like me to know their own capacity and realise what most people think is not true. No matter what, no one is ever useless,” said Min.

Aung Clinic: No. 271, Bayintnaung Road, Ward No. 44, North Dagon, Yangon
Contact: 09 2540 63341
Website: aungclinicmh.org

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