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SIERRA SHERIFF '21 STUDIO ART THESIS EXHIBITION

Raising Mental Health Awareness: An Artistic Series [Exploration]

Sierra Sheriff '21

Throughout U.S. history, and across many other nations and cultures, the topics of mental health and psychological services involving counseling and psychotherapies have been scrutinized and given an improper negative stigma. This is primarily due to stereotyping and misrepresentations of certain disorders and illnesses, as well as misunderstanding the process of receiving professional assistance with such challenges.

Over the years, more clinically evolved mental health centers (National Alliance on Mental Illness, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, etc.), hotlines (for suicide prevention, sexual assault, addiction, eating disorders, etc.), and other resources have been established in order to provide as much assistance as possible for individuals who are struggling with mental health. These resources have slowly begun to diminish the negative stigma against psychological disorders and receiving assistance for such, but there is always room to raise awareness about all facets of mental health.

This project, which contains four different artistic explorations, primarily addresses psychological disorders while raising awareness about mental health and associated resources. I wanted to communicate the benefits of reaching out for psychological assistance, and by so doing decrease the negative stigma that surrounds mental health within society. I aspire for this project to evoke an emotional reaction from viewers that adds to their understanding of mental health through works of art that are relatable to their own lives. The four works in the project are explained below.

Sierra Sheriff ’21, The Impacts of Therapy, 2021, acrylic on eight canvases.
Sierra Sheriff ’21, The Impacts of Therapy, 2021, acrylic on eight canvases.

The Impacts of Therapy is a series of abstract paintings that explores how individuals with certain disorders can feel before and after receiving psychological help. The disorders that I have addressed are depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder. Each disorder is represented by two paintings symbolizing the different states of “before therapeutic intervention” and “after receiving assistance.”

Sierra Sheriff ’21, The Impacts of Therapy, 2021, acrylic on eight canvases.
Sierra Sheriff ’21, The Impacts of Therapy, 2021, acrylic on eight canvases.
Sierra Sheriff '21, Hotlines, 2021, mixed media on canvas.

Hotlines is a mixed-media piece that includes various hotlines for time-sensitive mental health challenges and traumatic experiences, such as suicide prevention, sexual assault, addiction, and eating disorders. Throughout this piece, stories from survivors that have utilized such hotlines are included and relayed.

Sierra Sheriff ’21, Portrayal of Mental Health in the Media, 2021, mixed media on canvas.

Portrayal of Mental Health in the Media is a mixed-media piece that includes excerpts from music, television shows, and movies that address mental health in various ways. Some of the images included in this piece portray how mental health is “acted out” in shows and movies, whereas other images include how musicians address their own mental health in their songs.

Sierra Sheriff ’21, Making Time for Self-Care, 2021, acrylic on twelve canvases.

Making Time for Self-Care is a series of small acrylic paintings representing different self-care activities that individuals do in order to boost their mental well-being after doing anything mentally strenuous or dealing with personal challenges. The subject matter for this piece is based on the favorite self-care activities of friends and family, whom I surveyed in order to get realistic and relatable feedback.

Sierra Sheriff ’21 (left) with family and her work at the exhibit opening reception