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The Role of Poetry in Mental Health Awareness

Mental health. These two little words can carry such a stifling stigma with them. Society as a whole can often have a very narrow and unforgiving stance on what it means to have a mental illness or struggle with mental health. I believe part of this is because we live in a world that prefers the filtered and the seemingly perfect. We also live in a world that pairs asking for help and vulnerability with weakness. For a long time, this attitude has caused people to shy away from being honest about their experiences. Societal stereotypes make people hesitant to share their struggles for fear of whether or not other people will see their struggle as valid.

 

However, I do believe that there is a light being shone onto mental health awareness, and a big part of that light is coming from poetry. More and more poets are speaking out in their work about abuse, mental illness, eating disorders, and trauma, among other struggles. Not only is this a truly brave act, but it is liberating others to do the same. The poetry community is creating a safe space for harder topics to take center stage. It is creating a platform where people can heal together through shared emotions and experiences.

 

Not only does it shed light onto individual experiences, but it also helps to open up the discussion to a wider audience. The accessibility of poetry allows us to better address stereotypes and stigma and understand the dangers of putting any one type of mental illness into a box. Poetry gives mental illness a name, a face, and a story. When someone has the courage to share their work, it is a necessary reminder that mental illness does not have a type; it impacts people from every race, every socioeconomic status, every gender, and every stage of life.

 

This movement into vulnerability also reminds poets and readers alike that conversations about mental health are always worth having. It is okay to be open about your struggles. It is okay to ask for help. It is okay to invest time and energy into finding treatment. As a matter of fact, it’s admirable. And for many people, poetry can be an important step in their journey. It can give them the chance to confront the demons in their own head. It can give another person a chance to read, possibly for the first time, a poem that seems to describe all of the things they’ve experienced that they’ve never been able to put into words.

 

Poetry is a common ground for pain to be discussed and for people to heal, collectively and individually. And, above all else, poetry gives people an important message about mental health: It’s okay to talk about it. You can share your story here. We can unpack this together. What a beautiful testament to every hurting soul trying to make sense of their worlds. You can talk about it. You can heal from it. You are more than a diagnosis. You are strong.

 

How has poetry impacted you on your mental health journey? Has it helped you ask the tough questions? Has it helped you find your way to the answers? Share with us in the comments.

Comments (7)

  • vennocag Rea

    What an extraordinary accomplishment that:
    MENTAL HEALTH MONTH
    is the first month after POETRY MONTH

    stay aware peoples.

  • Stef

    Powerful!

  • Amber

    When I am in my head spinning out of control, or after an anxiety attack I write poetry. It’s very therapeutic and gets the pain out of my head and on something physical, paper. My poems often times are very dark but since I started cousing they gave actually begun to change. I can trace the negative thoughts to the positive all in one poem. I would highly suggest attempting creativity, even if it is not poetry, but some other creative medium and outlet because then you are taking control of the pain not allowing it to take control of you. Something beautiful can come out of the darkest hours.

  • Amanda

    Poetry has given me a voice I never knew I had. At the end of a five year relationship I started writing poetry and I will never stop. It gives me a release and sense of accomplishment. It encourages me to keep moving forward. I never was one to share something so private but now I share my poetry on Instagram and get motivated by the comments of others. It is part of my healing process and being exposed in such a raw form is amazing.

  • Nick Mazza

    For information on poetry therapy see:

    https://poetrytherapy.org/

  • Helen

    Love that you’re linking poetry to mental health. Studied women’s lived experiences of ovarian cancer and turned the findings from their interviews into poetry in my doctoral thesis…in health sciences!! It included the poetry created in the support group I ran for mining their strengths with each other when so much felt torn apart by the diagnosis. Poetry has been my underground river and sometimes, all that kept me moving forward when I couldn’t see a way… poetry is wisdom’s muse and voice…poetry is about the last bastion “for-profit” hasn’t quite devoured…poetry is resistance

  • Diane Kaufman, MD

    Poetry has been a life saver for me. Pegasus springing full grown from the blood of Medusa is considered to be the transformative act of healing from trauma. Pegasus is the symbol of poetry. The meaning of poesis? To make – to create. Medusa was a victim of rape by Poseidon. Rebirth is the phoenix bird flying. Hope is real and change is possible. Here is a prose poem (now an animated video) I wrote at a Words for Healing workshop I was co-facilitating with art therapist Margaret Hartsook at Legacy Hospital in Portland, Oregon. The writing prompt was to choose objects from a basket, to reflect upon them, and then express: https://youtu.be/-Nm8fZN10o4. If you have ideas on how to help Three Objects Spoke to Me spread her wings, please let me know. Thank you!

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