Published on March 3, 2014 | by Beau Bass


Don’t Just Stare: Treating mental illness through art

screen shot of Nicole de Leiburne introduction video for Don't Just Stare

Don’t Just Stare’s founder Nicole de Leiburne introduces the project on Youtube. [Youtube: Don’t Just Stare]

There can be a lot of trepidation when it comes to tackling the issue of mental health, however an increasing number of people are turning to alternative treatments, such as art therapy, in order to help treat their illness.

Statistics show that one in four people experience some form of mental health issue in the course of a year.

With this is mind Don’t Just Stare, a project exploring the connection between the arts and mental health, will be encouraging creative expression and demonstrating how the arts can be healing through a number of workshops later this Spring.

The project is looking for creatives and is calling upon students at UAL who may be able to contribute.

The opportunities for students will range from running workshops to showcasing work at one of the projects monthly events.

The founder of the project, Nicole de Leiburne, said: “We will be selecting creatives of all kinds who have a relevant story, to submit their work to be showcased at the launch.”

According to de Leiburne the whole ethos behind this project is: “to encourage creative expression and expose mental health in a way where it shows how creativity is important in ‘the recovery’ for so many people.”


The project will be running a series of monthly events and workshops in order to explore the connection further between mental health and the arts.

In addition to this, there will also be short films, live music and DJs at the events.

In order to provide a more in depth knowledge about the arts and psychology, there will also be a speaker at the events who will be able to shed more light on this subject.

Active in the effort to raise awareness about mental health, de Leiburne said: “I am passionate about pushing Don’t Just Stare arts therapy workshops. The arts have a therapeutic touch and [offer] alternative therapies. In general [this] should be seen as more important because I feel our culture places an almost complete emphasis on medication for the illness, rather than treating the cause.”

For a long while now there has been a relationship between the arts and mental health.

Art has therapeutic properties, often altering our current mood for the better. Art therapy can be used as an alternative to medication or in conjunction with other kinds of treatment.

It is a powerful tool that has been proven successful in healing the invisible wounds of mental health.

Growing interest

Recently interest has begun to grow surrounding arts-in-health initiatives, in which the creative process itself is seen to be therapeutic in making improvements to mental health and general well-being.

De Leiburne is passionate about pushing this project: “I guess in my head I want to make something huge happen in the world. This project has been in my head for years screaming to get out and now is the time more than ever to push through and make it happen.”

 “I suffered with anxiety for years and lost myself. Using the arts was my therapy and saved my life.” Nicole de Leiburne

This issue is deeply personal to de Leiburne. “Mental health illness is something very close to home. I suffered with anxiety for years and lost myself. Using the arts was my therapy and saved my life. If sharing my story and encouraging something I believe can change people’s lives, then I am going to do everything in my will to do so.”

Verbal therapy can often be a daunting prospect, according to Elaine Elliott of the British Association of Art Therapists: “Art therapy is useful as it is not dependent on spoken language and can therefore be helpful to anyone who finds it difficult to express their thoughts and feelings verbally.

“Pupils who may benefit are those who are struggling with particular life events such as bereavement or changes in family structure and illness; those who have suffered abuse, bullying or trauma; those with learning difficulties or physical disabilities, with autism spectrum disorders or those with social, peer, communication, speech and language difficulties. A number of schools now have a visiting art therapist,” she adds.

Get involved

This is a great initiative for creative students to get involved in, as mental health problems are a more common issue among university students compared to the rest of the population.

De Leiburne believes art therapy is “such a simple release and anyone can do it. You do not need to have any special skill or previous experience of doing art, music, dance or drama to find art therapy helpful. The aim is not to produce a wonderful work of art, but to use your creations to understand yourself better.”

De Leiburne has high hopes for this project as she has been working on it for some time now.

All her hard work will come to fruition later this spring with workshops coinciding with mental health awareness week.

The success of the project lies in people, so get involved, don’t just stare.

If you are interested in getting involved with this project, please visit:

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