by Sujal Manohar.
While my broader work addresses health issues, I became motivated to create art on mental health in particular after watching friends suffer from mental illnesses in college. I realized how campus culture directly helped or harmed my own mental wellbeing and that of my peers. However, although many struggle with mental health, stigma and other barriers on an individual and institutional level limit access to resources. Through my artwork, I aim to raise awareness about mental health experiences, both positive and negative, especially in a Duke context. I hope my work helps the community understand mental health in a more personal and human way.
To inform my project, I conducted interviews with Duke students, staff, and healthcare professionals about their mental health journeys. These conversations provide background information and shape my project so that it can have maximum impact. I wanted to learn about the management of chronic mental health conditions, the impact of campus culture on mental health, and the challenges that patients and providers face. Common themes from these interviews directly affected the final designs of my drawings and exhibit, sharing powerful individual narratives through art.
I plan to create an immersive therapy waiting room this fall at the Wellness Center Gallery, a popular space on campus frequented by students, faculty, and staff. The space will be curated to merge with the healthcare environment, as the gallery is adjacent to the campus pharmacy and wellness activity rooms. My black-and-white ink drawing prints aim to raise awareness about mental health issues, prompting viewers to reflect on their own experiences by integrating text, intricate lines, and campus architecture.
These prints will be inverted, showing the version of the story we usually don’t see. With the dark backgrounds and white lines, the work invokes a clinical feel similar to x-rays and medical images—an ironic connection since these technologies are never used to diagnose mental health conditions. These inverted drawings will also encourage viewers to find their silver lining regarding mental health. In addition to the art series, the room will have comfortable chairs and coffee tables, displaying more of my creative work with flowers in customized pill bottle containers and coasters with my designs.
The exhibition will share my work and research with the larger community. It is important that my artwork has a broader social message: to depict often-invisible experiences on campus and start developing solutions. I hope this project will implore viewers to think about mental health differently. Many Duke students struggle with their mental health, and while perceptions are slowly changing, there is still stigma surrounding these issues. I want to use the arts to show that mental health experiences are incredibly diverse, visually representing solutions to improve mental health and wellbeing.
This piece highlights the importance of mental health awareness at Duke and introduces the aim of the exhibit. While a lot of work has been done in this realm, the task is far from complete— due to stigma or accessibility barriers, many students are still hesitant to get help for mental health issues.
The idea of effortless perfection has pervaded Duke culture for years, describing how people downplay the effort needed to maintain their grades, pursue the best internships, and keep up with a busy social life. We show a perfect, unblemished exterior to the outside world even if everything is falling apart.
Many enter college already concerned about the financial impact their education will have on their families. To make things worse, hidden costs appear that students didn’t account for, ranging from social expenses to pricey textbooks.
Wide-eyed first-years enter Duke with diverse interests, excited by the seemingly limitless academic possibilities. Once junior and senior year rolls around, several students feel trapped, as if they don’t have as many options anymore.
College students often take on busy schedules, trying to fit in advanced courses, time-consuming extracurriculars, and leadership positions. This can cause academic stress and limit time for self-care and relaxation.
Particularly evident among first-year students, several barriers can prevent students from achieving success and finding a sense of belonging. A culture of exclusivity, with competitive processes for clubs and social groups, lead to many students facing rejection just as they begin college.
Several interviewees mentioned competitiveness with regards to poor self-care. Many students proudly announce their lack of sleep or argue that their academic schedule is the most difficult.
These four drawings highlight issues of substance abuse on college campuses, with hidden words associated with drinking culture. in the final exhibit, they will be printed on coasters.
Students here face stress and pressure from almost every area of their lives – what is the solution? We need more self-care, tolerance, inclusion, and compassion to tackle mental health issues. I am hopeful that this exhibit is a step in the right direction.
Inspired by one of my interviewees who spoke about how medication improved her severe depression, this drawing symbolizes recovery as flowers growing out of pill bottles. Each blossom is a different height, indicating that each recovery process is unique.
The distinctive Gothic windows at Duke provide an opportunity for students to decorate or spell out words on the squares. I utilized this concept to represent a simple but powerful message, one which is also echoed through the exhibit as a whole.