Art As a Tool to Promote Mental Well-Being

More than 500 attendees gathered at a forum focused on mental health and well-being, where art emerged as a useful aid to express emotions
Children leave school in Chhuk district, Kampot province. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Children leave school in Chhuk district, Kampot province. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Expressing positive emotions and engaging in arts, particularly drawing, can promote better mental health and well-being among people, panellists said at a recent event.

Learning to manage emotions and recognize feelings, whether positive or negative, can also contribute to overall emotional well-being, the experts noted at the Ignite Phnom Penh Season 8 on Sunday, which saw about 500 attendees gather at Cambodia-Korea Cooperation Centre (CKCC).

The event featured speakers from various fields, including the film industry, content creation, entrepreneurship, and mental health.

Yim Sotheary, a psychotherapist and CEO of Sneha Centre, said that better health for Kindergarten (K1) refers to the starting point of children's academic and social development. At this age, children are full of energy and curiosity, and it is not essential to require expertise in psychology skills, she said.

There are simply fundamental and small practice skills that can help support mental health, Sotheary said, adding that learning about better mental health is like starting from scratch, much like a child beginning to learn.

It involves practising skills, such as expressing pleasure, happiness, and other positive emotions, she said.

She added that by focusing on these fundamental aspects, individuals can begin to develop their mental well-being, just as children learn and grow through play and exploration.

Sotheary said that it is important to recognize that mental health is not just the absence of illness but it is also about promoting positive emotions and building resilience. By starting early and learning how to express and regulate emotions, leads to better self-awareness and understanding, she said.

“We often hear that learning about mental health requires an expert but that is not necessarily the case. Learning about mental health can be a simple process, similar to how children learn in kindergarten,” Sotheary said.

“By practising basic skills and focusing on expressions of pleasure and happiness, people can learn to address feelings of sadness or depression,” Sotheary added.

Drawing is a powerful tool that can be used to promote mental health and well-being, she said. It is an activity that has been enjoyed by people of all ages and cultures for centuries and has been found to have numerous benefits for our mental health, she added.

“It's never too late to start”

Ry Monisovanya, project director of Arts and Mental Health, said the art of drawing to better mental health is so effective that it allows people to express themselves in a non-verbal way. For many people, it can be difficult to put their thoughts and feelings into words, she said.

Monisovanya emphasised that "art" is a broad term that includes various forms, such as painting, sculpting, and dancing.

“As involved in visual arts, which I believe can contribute to better mental health, drawing is a skill that we learn since childhood and it's never too late for adults to start. Through drawing or sketching, people can express their feelings and emotions, and this skill is not limited by age,” Monisovanya said.

She added that mental health is important for everyone, regardless of age. Drawing is a simple way to promote better mental health and it can be started by anyone with just a piece of paper and a pencil.

“Drawing doesn't require a specific set of skills, just one line can represent a feeling, and adding a little red colour can convey warmth or heat. It's a powerful tool to express what we feel, and it's never too late to start,” she added.

In addition, she believes that drawing can also help develop mindfulness and self-awareness. “When drawing, we become fully immersed in the process, focusing our attention on the lines, colours, and shapes that are created. This can be a meditative and relaxing experience, helping us become more present in the moment and let go of our worries and stresses.”

“Draw what they feel”

For Sotheary, her psychotherapy experience is that there is power in the link between art and mental health.

“When we experience a burnout, the brain system can block the language response area. When working with traumatised children who may be unable to speak, one of the most powerful tools is to draw on a piece of paper using colours and other art materials to provide entertainment and expression.

“They may not be able to speak, but their emotions and thought processes can be shown through drawing or sketching. Rather than forcing them to speak, we can pass them a piece of paper and allow them to draw what they feel,” Sotheary said.

“I don't avoid the challenge, I confront it”

Choeun Chakriya, a former legal associate at KPMG Cambodia, said during the panel discussion that before defining mental health, it is important to understand negative and positive feelings. For example, love creates a feeling of excitement and acceptance, while breaking up can lead to negative emotions and hard acceptance.

She added that to improve emotional well-being, people need to educate themselves on how to manage emotions and recognize feelings, whether they are positive or negative.

“Don’t avoid negative feelings. To move on and overcome obstacles, one needs to face the challenge,” Chakriya said, adding that there are many ways to approach negative feelings, such as drawing, practising self-care, meditating or writing.

“When facing a challenge to an obstacle, I choose to write in a book. I let everything out of my brain, mind, and feelings. I don't avoid the challenge, I confront it,” Chakriya said.

Noem Chhunny, CEO of VIPASSA and a mindfulness coach, believes in accepting one's feelings and returning to ancient ideas, rather than solely focusing on current ones. He believes that understanding one's feelings is crucial, regardless of whether they relate to the past, present or the future.

According to Chhunny, it is important to live in the present and lead a happy life. He recommends the Buddhist technique of visiting oneself diligently for at least 15 minutes a day through activities such as meditation, self-care and self-esteem building.