Children's Center helps kids overcome mental illness through art

Aron Walls is drawing her feelings in the form of an elf, as Cindy Read tries to draw those feelings out of her.

"What makes [the elf] so tired?" Cindy asks Aron. "I don't know," she answers. "Did she sleep last night?" Cindy asks. "Probably not." 

This conversation is part of the art therapy at the Children's Center in Detroit. The therapy is making all the difference for this 16-year-old, who was once too distraught to even hold her head up.

Art is everywhere at the Children's Center, from the clothing closet where families can shop to the library where kids create the book covers on the walls. From Monet to Van Gogh to a Bert and Ernie Picasso - kids are learning, creating and communicating through art.

"It's much easier to talk about the art piece than what's going on in your head right now," said Read, the consumer engagement manager. "Tell me what are your issues, what are your problems."

She shows us a piece by a 12-year-old boy who had been hospitalized due to mental health issues, and he was able to explain what was happening in his head and how he was feeling with these tightly curled scraps of paper in all different colors.

"What he said about this one was that this shows everyone what his brain looks like," said Read. 

"You can say so much in a picture that you don't have to verbally explain," said Walls

Yet explaining is exactly what Walls is doing. Her mom says she was in such a dark place a couple years ago she couldn't even speak.

"She had locked down; she wouldn't communicate with anything, wouldn't talk to me," says her mother, Christine Hudson. 

It got so bad, Hudson removed all sharp items from their home as she was afraid her daughter would take her own life.

"Silence can end their life and you have no idea that your child was even suffering through anything, and the whole time she was silent I had no idea she was going through as much as she was going through because she was keeping it a secret," Hudson says. 

Desperate for help, Hudson turned to the Children's Center. Now Walls is happy, laughing and living.

"It's been so long before I had seen that smile, so when she smiles it can't help but to light up my insides to see that smile on her face," said Hudson.

"Through art she's communicating with me and would never thought that that simple dialogue would open up so much communication to now she's talking to me about any and everything," said Hudson.

The Children's Center also provides them with other therapy and parenting support as well as book clubs and tutoring and yoga. Community projects director Laura Lefever says it's a comprehensive approach to helping our youth with their mental health.

"We want to make sure that as long as there's a need in the community to help children that we're here for you," said Lafever. 

"Oh this is home; this is home from home. This is where we get our comfort, our support," says Hudson. It's support that Aron now knows she has no matter what.

"You're never alone when it comes to your struggles. There will always be somebody who understands, there will always be help," said Walls.

"We're not here to judge, you're doing the art work for you so the art is you. And we're not all pretty all of the times. Sometimes we're a hot mess and that's okay," said Read. 

More than 49 percent of children between the ages of 13 and 18 experience some type of mental disorder. Suicide is the leading cause of death in teens, and the third-leading cause of death in young people from 10-24 years of age. Ninety percent of those youth who died of suicide had an underlying mental health issue. 

Studies also show that most kids with mental illnesses get better and many recover completely, with the support of doctors, clinicians and therapies. 

 If you'd like more information on The Children's Center's art therapy, call 313-831-5535. You can also visit them online here.