Woodlake Union High School junior Natalia Frias is in her art class working on a painting of a girl. The girl is “an average girl, an odd girl,” says Natalia. “She has problems connecting with others, so she turns to social media.” In the painting, the girl is crying out, the computer mouse is wrapped around her and hateful sayings cover the background. Natalia explains that her painting represents the common occurrence of cyberbullying. “Looking for connections online can sometimes be the opposite of what you want,” Natalia says. “Kids say hurtful things about others that they might not say in public.”
Natalia chose to depict cyberbullying in her art piece as part of a program called RESTATE. For the past three semesters, nearly 500 high school students in Tulare and Kings counties have participated in the RESTATE program, which was created by the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) to reduce the stigma of mental illness. The CHOICES Prevention Programs has administered the program at ten high schools.
Now in the final semester of the grant provided by HHSA, RESTATE includes a mental health curriculum that uses the media arts as a vehicle to promote awareness and understanding of issues students, their friends and families may face. Students begin the program with training designed to teach basic knowledge about mental health issues. They then conduct research on their chosen mental health topic before working on their art projects. Art projects can range from drawings, paintings or photography to theater productions and video public service announcements. The course culminates with a public growth workshop conducted by an expert in the field of mental health, followed by a public exhibition of artworks and community resources available to reduce the stigma of mental illness, stereotyping and discriminatory thinking.
Students in Woodlake art teacher Deanna Bowers’ class have chosen to develop artworks around the issues of depression, suicide and other harmful behaviors. Ms. Bowers said that because of RESTATE, students have told her that they are more comfortable talking about mental health issues and that when they do, people are supportive listeners. “I believe that the course has been very valuable and that students will realize this later in life,” she said.
The work of Ms. Bowers’ students and other Tulare and Kings county classes will be exhibited May 17 at the RESTATE Spring Showcase in Visalia. The event will be held in conjunction with the Slick Rock Student Film Festival from 4:30 to 6:30pm Saturday, May 17, outside the Visalia Fox Theatre on Encina Street. Students will facilitate conversations about their artwork and how it ties to mental health awareness. RESTATE is funded through the Tulare-Kings Suicide Prevention Task Force as part of Proposition 63 funds.