- Associated Press - Friday, November 4, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Art has been an invaluable outlet in Laura Silverberg’s fight against mental illness.

Jewelry making, painting and collaging have helped Silverberg become more patient and feel a sense of pride in her creations.

“I have grown by doing art,” she said.

In 1987, Silverberg came to Topeka seeking treatment at the Menninger Clinic. Battling depression has led her to three court-committed stays at psychiatric facilities.

The Topeka Capital-Journal (http://bit.ly/2eY87Kb ) reports that at one point, Silverberg drove to Interstate 70 and planned to walk into oncoming traffic. Another time, she bought a gun and went to a hotel to kill herself. When a therapist pointed out to Silverberg that she has a support system and that she should use it, Silverberg realized the therapist was right.

An art therapy program at Valeo also was immensely beneficial. Silverberg got to try new artistic techniques and learn new skills such as crocheting. She described her art therapist as being encouraging.

With jewelry making, Silverberg said she enjoys designing pieces and playing with combinations of beads.

“I’m able to look at creations and be proud,” she said. “When I sell something, I feel successful.”

Some of Silverberg’s jewelry is on view and for sale at the Yeldarb Gallery in NOTO. A year ago, the gallery, in partnership with Valeo Behavioral Health Care, opened the “Creations of Hope Art Gallery,” which features the work of artists dealing with mental health issues.

The collaboration has been a way to promote prevocational skills and reduce the stigma of mental illness, said Paula Acheson, Valeo’s expressive therapies manager.

“Artists become public health advocates as they are empowered to raise awareness by describing one piece of art at a time,” Acheson said.

Within the art therapy field, there is an ongoing discussion between process and product. However, Acheson said she believes the process is more important therapeutically.

“The act of creating a unique product is a very satisfying form of self-expression,” she said.

At Valeo, the expressive therapies program is a coordinated treatment effort among case managers, education and employment specialists and medication specialists to help support its clients.

Staying compliant with medications has helped Silverberg’s life stabilize in the past few years.

“I’ve worked very hard to get to where I’m at today,” Silverberg said.

At one time she was told she would live in a nursing home or group home for the rest of her life, but Silverberg has been living independently for several years.

Becoming engaged with the community also has been important. Silverberg enjoys volunteering at Brewster Place, Temple Beth Sholom and other community organizations. Being a peer mentor with the dialectical behavioral therapy program at Valeo was an especially meaningful step since Silverberg completed the program herself. The program helps patients with communication skills, mindfulness and validation of the self.

“You give and you get back even more,” she said.

Silverberg said she isn’t embarrassed by her psychiatric problems.

“There’s such a stigma with mental illness, but once you open it up, you’re amazed by how many people have a family member or friends or they themselves who have issues or problems,” she said. “Everyone has a story.”

With rounds of cuts in services and limited options for those in crisis, Silverberg is concerned about the availability of mental health services in the community.

“I’m fortunate I got the help I needed,” she said.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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