Mental Health Stigma Spotlighted By Manchester Student Artist

Manchester Township High School student Elizabeth Lauer shows her winning artwork, with teacher Teena O’Connell. (Photo courtesy Manchester Schools)

  MANCHESTER – Township High School junior Elizabeth Lauer’s painting, “Distress,” was chosen as a winner for an award in the Creative Expression Contest by the Mental Health Awareness Committee of Ocean County.

  Lauer told The Manchester Times, “I believe this contest is a great idea to see everyone’s interpretation of what they believe mental health looks like. Of course, mental health always varies in people’s minds but it’s still a big deal to bring light to.

  “There is so many different forms, I see it all the time in the people around me. Ever since we had the long break due to COVID, some actual mental issues just seem normal at this point,” she added.

  Lauer said regarding her submission, “I love drawing and painting expressions. When representation of mental health comes up in movies and shows, it’s always glamorized.”

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  “True pain is something not always portrayed in media and people need to know that expression is okay. That’s what I convey – to show in my painting, I can only hope it comes across as that,” Lauer added.

  Lauer’s art teacher, Teena O’Connell described her student’s work saying, “Liz worked so hard on this, on her own time, and it is wonderful that it is being acknowledged.”

  “We offer the contest to all of the students yearly since its inception, but this is the first time a student has entered to my knowledge. They send the entries directly to the contest and it is the first time one of our students has won an award,” O’Connell added.

Manchester Township High School student Elizabeth Lauer recently won the Mental Health Awareness Art Contest award with this submission. (Photo courtesy Manchester Schools)

  The Ocean County Mental Health Awareness Committee is a county-wide coalition of concerned community members dedicated to removing the stigma associated with mental illness. The Committee’s mission is to educate Ocean County residents that mental illness is a treatable brain disorder by promoting awareness and advocacy.

  Submissions included original poems, art, essays, dramatic readings on film, and creative expression in digital media related to any of the themes.

  “The Creative Expression contest is one of the annual activities hosted by the committee to raise awareness about mental health. It is our hope to encourage, educate, and inspire youth and young adults to become a catalyst of change, talk openly about mental health, and support friends they know are experiencing a mental health condition or substance abuse problem,” said Jamie Busch, Assistant Director and Chief of Administrative Services for the Ocean County Department of Human Services.

  Busch said, “Elizabeth’s artwork is a poignant representation of the impact stigma has on wellbeing. About one in five adults in the United States live with a mental illness.

Elizabeth Lauer (Photo courtesy Manchester Schools)

  “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide, most notably among youth and young adults, vulnerable and at-risk individuals, and individuals directly impacted by the repercussions of the pandemic, such as isolation, the loss of a loved one, job loss, increased caregiving responsibilities, and so forth,” Busch added. “Because of the stigma of mental illness and fear of alienation and shame, many people do not seek out treatment. Treatment works and recovery is possible, however without services and supports people suffer and they suffer in silence.

  “The damage this causes is far reaching, not only to one’s own mental and physical health, but also extending to family, friends, coworkers, and community. Compassion and empathy for mental illnesses, like any other chronic health condition, is vital to eliminate stigma,” Busch said.

  The Mental Health Awareness Committee plans to recognize all the winners of the Creative Expression Contest at the annual Celebrating Wellness event at 5:30 p.m. May 4 at Mancini Hall in Toms River branch of the Ocean County Library on Washington Street.

  This event will also include awards for a calendar art contest for younger children, and recognition of outstanding community advocates. A resource fair hosted by NAMI Ocean County will precede the program, starting at 4:30 p.m.

  Anyone who may be struggling with their behavioral health can call the NJ Mental Health Cares, emotional support, information and referral service at 1-866-202-HELP or visit njmentalhealthcares.org.

  Brief, free, and confidential self-assessments for symptoms of mental health conditions can also be found at mhscreening.org.

  The Ocean County Mental Health Board which is a seven-to-12-member public County advisory board responsible for the development of mental health services in the County, maintains a directory of local providers at oceandhs.org.