Two years ago “Abraham Blue,” the 50-foot mural of Abraham Lincoln on the Peoria County Courthouse, came into our community. Many recognize the historic importance, but few know the real reason I (Doug) created this image. “Abraham Blue” represents a call to action for our community. Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression most of his life. As a young man, he was suicidal to the extreme that neighbors and friends had to watch over him. Lincoln was able to openly share his struggle because depression had no stigma of weakness in the 1800s. Because Lincoln was willing to say “I am now the most miserable man living,” he was able to receive the support of the community that helped him survive this debilitating condition. “Abraham Blue” represents the fact that we need to abolish the stigma of depression and join hands to help members of our community.
Today we are living in a world of escalating stress and uncertainty that requires healing if we are to succeed in overcoming the problems we face. Part of the answer to achieve that healing has to come from the community’s willingness to put aside the stigma of depression in favor of understanding each other better.
Depression and related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are like a cancer of the mind and are clinically understood to be life threatening, but many people are fearful of revealing their struggles because they feel ashamed. The stigma is perpetuated by people who lack understanding and by misconceptions about the illness. Imagine having a life-threatening illness and being embarrassed to seek help and fearing that people will avoid you if they knew.
If Peoria is intent on becoming the Midwest center of healing, we need to address mental health. We need to pull together as a community to help others ease the stress in our lives. We need to be more open and confront this through love and compassion.
It is proven that the practice of the arts can help in stress reduction. In medical centers across the country, the Veterans Administration uses the arts to help soldiers overcome PTSD and depression. The VA encourages and supports groups like our local VA22, a talented group of veteran artists who want to help other veterans express themselves through visual and creative arts. They are dedicated to lowering the suicide rate of veterans that occur over 22 times a day, twice the national suicide average.
The need to heal our mental health has always existed, but only recently have we begun a deeper dive into neuroscience of cause and effects of creativity and its ability to soothe and calm. We need to devote more resources and attention to using the arts as tools for healing. We need to give our children greater access to creative opportunities that will open their minds to different perspectives. We need to embrace the arts as foundational to expression of passion and joy. All of these things are possible, not as the answer, but as pieces of a puzzle. This is not a problem, it is a puzzle to be solved and sites like americansforthearts.org have ideas.
Next time you go by the Peoria County Courthouse and look up at “Abraham Blue,” pause to think about the medicine of community and the positive impact you can have on others.