When Mia was young, she would accompany her family on their visits to her grandmother in the hospital. For years she would visit her grandmother, yet never did she truly understand what was wrong. All her family would ever tell her was, “she’s ill.”
It wasn’t until much later that Mia learned her grandmother was in a hospital due to her lifelong struggle with mental illness. This experience led Mia to developing an interest in psychology.
It’s been years since that curiosity was sparked, and Mia DeMarco now works as the Senior Psychology Assistant at Bradley Hospital. In this position, Mia works with children anywhere from infancy to seven years old, conducting research and leading PeaceLove workshops.
In a way, Mia’s family was making a really important point about our mental health. Mental illness is just as real and serious as any other illness, and it is important that it be acknowledged as such. That being said, it is also important to give people the correct language to use when speaking about mental illness.
Mia holds pretty strong feelings on how we speak about mental health today. In fact, she leans away from the phrase “mental health” entirely.
She continues on to discuss the stigma that exists around “mental” health. “People use the word mental like, ‘That was mental!’ and they mean it as a synonym for crazy.” Mia doesn’t want a word so tangled with negative connotations to be used in a discussion about the brain. “Mental” is an abstract concept whereas “brain” is much clearer and easier to grasp. It’s just an organ. “You don’t have a mental” Mia says, “you have a brain.”
Frequently, parents of Mia’s patients will express embarrassment about being at Bradley for help. One thing Mia wants everyone to know is that there is no shame in seeking help on behalf of your brain. Bringing your child to receive mental health treatment doesn’t mean you’ve failed, or that you have done anything wrong as a parent. Making the choice to take care of your child is doing the right thing.
Mia’s relationship with PeaceLove goes back to when PeaceLove used to run workshops at Bradley. PeaceLove expanded and began training individuals to become CREATORS and hold their own expressive arts workshops. After hearing this, Mia applied to become a CREATOR. PeaceLove has created a pocket of her day to be creative. As Mia shares with me the benefits of being a CREATOR, she stands up to demonstrate the skirt she made and is wearing for our interview. Being a CREATOR has inspired her to take up art projects, and cultivate the creative side of her she forgot she had.
(Above: Artwork created during a PeaceLove expressive arts workshop led by CREATOR Mia)
While the kids she works with may be young, they get a lot out of the program. Many of the kids Mia works with have already experienced a severe amount of trauma. PeaceLove workshops offer a new, less intimidating way to talk about how they are feeling. Mia explains how a patient’s artwork shows a side of them they might not otherwise see. “Even if they don’t tell you, you can see it in their work.” Every week there are one or two kids who greatly benefit from the workshops. To Mia, this makes it all worth it. If a few kids every week take what they’ve learned in these workshops and bring it out into the world with them, it can completely change how those children will express themselves. Communication is such a valuable skill. Learning young that there are creative and productive ways to work through internal struggles is something that can open new worlds for the child.
When looking to the future, Mia has big goals for shaping the way we look at and talk about our mental health. A huge part of this is simply normalizing it. We spend all day talking to each other, but we never really talk about the way we’re feeling. Mental illness is so common, yet we feel like we can’t talk about it. Mia, along with all of us at PeaceLove, are working hard to change that.