According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, millions of Americans are affected by mental health conditions every year. Mental illnesses do not discriminate regardless of age, ethnicity, sex, socioeconomic status, etc. As such, it is imperative to create a society where we feel more comfortable talking about and helping each other through mental health setbacks, as well as supporting our loved ones who have mental illnesses.
As someone who has lived with anxiety and depression from a very young age, in addition to having C-PTSD due to traumatic health experiences, I fully understand how difficult it can be to live a harmonious life when your brain and body are creating a hostile inner environment.
One important way that we can figure out how to navigate life with mental illnesses is by channeling our energy through art of any kind. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing A.S. Minor, an Army veteran, spoken word poet, and mental health and mental illnesses advocate.
Read our interview below to learn about his amazing story of overcoming mental illness and helping others do the same through art and expression.
What is your background with mental health both personally and professionally?
I am a United States Army Veteran, and deal with issues from my time in service as a Mortuary Affairs Specialist. I also deal with mental health issues stemming from my childhood. After I got out of the service, I found myself in a very bad place that lasted a few years. I found performing, and doing mental health outreach through that, was immensely helpful in overcoming that bad place. I travel the country doing spoken word poetry performances on mental health awareness, both in an effort to educate the uninformed and to remind others that they're not alone in their mental illness.
How did you get into speaking publicly about mental health?
After I got out of the Army, I found myself in a dark and scary place. In the few years following my discharge, I was hospitalized a number of times. I was becoming increasingly reclusive, and someone close to me recommended a writing workshop that was free to veterans and concluded with a performance at the end. I immediately fell in love. I began doing open mics and poetry slams. I floated the idea of working together with the small group of veterans that had accumulated from that workshop, and they agreed; we called ourselves The Combat Hippies. We toured all over with our hour-long stage performance entitled "Conscience Under Fire" for a couple of years. We even went on to do a TedX Talk.
I realized, however, that due to the fact that we were all veterans, that the bulk of the crowds attended our events were from that demographic. Our message was aimed at bridging the gap between the veteran and civilian populations, but the very nature of our group was leaving a large part of the mental health community out, unintentionally, of course.
I ventured out on my own under the name A.S. Minor, and I began leaning more on my experiences with mental health in general, as opposed to just veteran mental health. As a solo artist I've traveled across the country, performing on stages, in VA hospitals, and in classrooms, all in the effort to bring awareness to mental health.
What is your opinion on the relationship between art (in any form) and mental health?
A good friend of mine always says, "The opposite of Depression is Expression." I find that alienation comes naturally to a lot of people with mental health issues. It just seems easier that way for many of us. So we try our best to keep our heads down and mind our own business. But the problem with that is our minds are the issue. Without any external releases, we sink further into our own thoughts, wherever they take us.
For me, I've always been a writer. I've written short stories, novels, essays, and poetry. It was my escape - to be able to put the words on the paper and out of my head. It was almost like having a conversation with a therapist, just written. But when I got off the stage the first handful of times and heard people tell me how my words saved their life, that's when I realized that many people have never found that, and so, like a volcano, they're forced by their own circumstances to hold all of that emotional lava inside.
For some people it eventually explodes out, but for others it simply burns them away from the inside. Art of any kind can often help to give that explosion a direction and a purpose, even if it's only to an audience of themselves. That's why I began doing poetry writing workshops after some of my performances, especially in schools.
How do art and mental health intersect in your life?
That's an interesting question, because many people confuse "mental health" and "mental illness," but they are not synonymous. Everyone has mental health, because we all have minds, while only a portion of us--though a growing amount--deal with mental health issues, AKA mental illness. So mental health and art run along the same track in my life. Art is what keeps me mentally healthy, and I use my experiences with mental illness nearly every day. For me, there is no distinction; I am a mental health awareness advocate above all else, so I do my best to integrate my talents and knowledge into everything I do.
How can others use art as a way to better their mental health?
I feel that many people put too much pressure on the abstract idea of artist. They think it's painting or writing or playing an instrument. I've always felt that we're ALL artists, but some people either haven't found their art-form or they don't realize that they have an artistic talent. Art is really just anything you enjoy creating, and it doesn't have to be creation from nothing. I've met some jigsaw puzzle artists who can take a 10,000 piece puzzle and put it together while having a conversation. I've met some garden artists who can look at a bunch of flowers and organize them into the most beautiful bouquets. And, I've met some mechanical artists who can diagnose an engine by listening to it for 10 seconds.
Art can be anything, if you're passionate about it. But the key is that we have to FIND that art-form. That means going to a cooking or dance class, or even joining a book club, because with the latter, there is even an art to reading and dissecting a book that many people dismiss.
What is one piece of advice you have for someone struggling with their mental health?
The biggest piece of advice that I give people is to hang on. That sounds cliche, but it's the most important thing someone can do for their mental health, whether they have issues or not. That's why meditation is so influential in much of the world. Life is an ever-turning wheel, and that means we WILL pass this spot.
Someone told me that they're only hanging on because their family needs them. I said, "Good! That's fine." Even if it's an external reason that keeps them here, that's great, because as long as you're alive there's always a chance to change something. And small changes can yield big results over time. Then, one day you'll be able to look back and say, "I can't believe I survived THAT!"
Anything else you'd like to include that my questions didn't tap into?
I am available for booking through my website and representation. I have been as low mentally as someone can get, and I love to share my story to help others know that they are not alone.