How do DATA, ART + MENTAL HEALTH impact each other?

An Introduction to #DataArtistry4MentalHealth Awareness

For many years, art has proven to be a great tool for social advocacy. Art exists as a means through which ideas can be expressed and communicated. It brings out a person’s view and credits one with the freedom to act and express themselves. With all this power at their disposal, artists are able to create works that intersect with political activism and a range of other social causes.

This power from art can be combined with the power of data to construct and convey compelling stories in what is referred to as “Data Artistry”. Data artistry in simple terms can be considered as the combination of the hard facts from data with design to present something to the intended audience in a way that will hopefully result in a type of action.

It was on this basis that we kicked off our Data Artistry for Mental Health Awareness project in October 2020 working with creatives in the districts of Kampala and Jinja. These two districts were selected because these are creative hotspots and our hope was to use data and art to unmask the mental health issues they face as well as understand the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. This project was supported by Hivos East Africa, an organisation that seeks new and creative solutions to persistent global problems in East Africa.

Generally, the aim of this project was to lay emphasis on the well-being of creatives and show that mental health matters, in a country where mental health issues are often swept under the rug. This was why we relied on data artistry to tell impactful stories through songs, film, murals among other arts to create long-lasting mental health awareness.

The initial part of this project involved visiting creatives and engaging with them on mental health in order to help them understand the need for mental health care and how they can access support as well as help each other to overcome the challenges of mental health. The second part of the project involved putting in place social structures that can be used to tackle mental health issues.

As part of the engagement process, a qualitative research study was conducted by Pollicy with 120 creatives in the form of focus group discussions. We commissioned this research in 2020 to assess the impact of the covid-19 mental health lockdown on creatives and artists in Uganda.

The findings from this study revealed creatives had been suffering from mental health challenges such as loss of sleep, anxiety, anguish, stress, depression, suicidal thoughts, and hopelessness. Creatives also reported facing a mental block affecting their productivity with a majority having lost their livelihoods.

When talking about coping with these challenges, creatives reported forming talk therapy sessions with their fellow peers critical in pushing themselves to be productive even when there wasn’t any inspiration. This was useful in tackling difficult situations as opposed to some alternatives like turning to substance abuse that some reported using as a coping mechanism.

With support from mental health experts, we empowered all these creatives with the knowledge and skills that they need to tackle their mental health challenges. This was done through community meetups and group discussions with the creatives with the aim of opening up mental health discussions.

Using recommendations from the research, we teamed up with the creatives to create educational murals in various creative spaces in Kampala and Jinja along with a mental health-themed song. All the murals created depict hopeful messages as well as suggestive techniques for dealing with mental health issues.

Creatives also created mental health meetups held on a monthly basis. These were safe spaces dedicated to sharing, counseling, and supporting each other.

It is our hope that by the end of the project in September 2021, creatives will have a good support network to cater to their mental health needs, be in a position to recognize fellow peers battling mental health challenges, and collectively thrive.

Read the full report on this study here! and Visit the exhibition room here! Or watch the report launch webinar on YouTube and stream the mental health song here!

Written by Arthur Kakande (Data Products Lead) & Phillip Ayazika (Program Manager) at Pollicy.

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