Recognizing the Positive Impact of the Arts During Mental Health Awareness Month

May 3, 2024

The arts have a way of lifting us up. Many people connect to a song, film, book or piece of art of some kind that speaks to them directly. Audience members experience this connection on an individual and communal level with live theater, using the Fox Cities P.A.C. as a multicultural gathering place to enhance the understanding and enjoyment of life through the arts. From offering a brief respite from life’s stresses to helping channel emotions in a healthy way, patrons often leave live performing arts experiences lighter and forever changed. During May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, Reach Counseling’s Executive Director/CEO, Kristen Trimberger and Case Manager, Tracie La Rue Moen highlight the importance of and the various ways the arts improve mental health.

Reach Counseling was established in 1976 as the Winnebago County Sexual Assault Response Team before becoming a licensed outpatient mental health clinic in 1993, continuing its ongoing commitment to the well-being of the Fox Valley. Serving thousands of residents in Winnebago, Outagamie and Calumet Counties each year, as of 2023, Reach Counseling provides prevention education, advocacy, counseling and sex offender treatment programs.

Reach Counseling and the Fox Cities P.A.C. share the commitment to our community and the belief in the importance of arts. We have a great partnership with the Center that allows donated tickets to be offered to our clients and opportunities for our therapists to learn more about the arts and their connection to healing.
Kristen Trimberger - Reach Counseling Executive Director/CEO

Kristen and Tracie have been serving our community at the Neenah and Appleton locations for nearly four years. In her position, Kristen leads fundraising efforts, cultivates relationships with donors and stakeholders and ensures that Reach Counseling is effectively delivering their programs. Tracie’s role allows her to meet client needs by managing a counseling waiting list and offering crisis counseling to people waiting. She also helps facilitate the survivor support group and connects clients with resources.

As noted by Tracie and Kristen, “one in four people have a diagnosable mental health condition.” While anyone can struggle with mental health, certain demographics can be more susceptible to specific conditions. The local group, the N.E.W. Mental Health Connection, completed a survey which focused specifically on the mental health in the Fox Valley region.

The social connection recommendations within the N.E.W. Mental Health Connection’s survey aligns with the work the Fox Cities P.A.C. is doing in our community.
Tracie La Rue Moen - Reach Counseling Case Manager

Engaging in live performing arts experiences also allows for self-expression, reflection, self-discovery, mindfulness, relaxation, empowerment, resilience, inspiration and hope. “Art provides a medium for individuals to express themselves freely, allowing them to process and release emotions in a healthy way,” Kristen remarked. “It inspires and uplifts, offering glimpses of beauty, wonder and possibility, even in the darkest of times, empowering people to take control of their narratives and overcome challenges.

Live performing arts experiences bring people together, providing a sense of belonging and connection within our community. These experiences foster cultural enrichment, social cohesion, economic growth, educational enrichment, emotional well-being, community pride and intercultural dialogue, making them essential components of a thriving and inclusive society.
Tracie La Rue Moen - Reach Counseling Case Manager

Engaging with the arts can improve mental health in various ways, offering specific benefits across different forms of artistic expression. Though there are a multiple benefits, Kristen and Tracie have provided a few examples of the direct impact:

  • Painting or drawing has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, leading to improved mood and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Music stimulates various cognitive functions, such as memory, attention and executive functioning, which can be beneficial for individuals with cognitive impairments or neurodevelopmental disorders.
  • Dancing or moving rhythmically to music can release physical tension and muscular stiffness, providing relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Writing exercises, including journaling or poetry, can help individuals process trauma, grief and other difficult emotions, leading to improved psychological well-being.

Mental health struggles are also present in the youngest of our community members. Students of all ages find comfort in the arts through a variety of means. This includes nonverbal expression to help regulate and communicate their emotions, reducing their stress levels, offering a sense of achievement, providing social connection and a sense of purpose. “Students can find meaning beyond academic achievement through the arts, developing healthy coping strategies while having a creative outlet for self-discovery, exploration and personal growth,” Tracie shared.

The integration of art within our community can have far-reaching benefits for mental health, providing avenues for expression, connection and healing. By recognizing and supporting the role of art in promoting well-being, we can create a more compassionate and inclusive society for all.
Kristen Trimberger – Reach Counseling Executive Director/CEO

Written by Philomena Dorobek, Brand Storyteller
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center