Millions of Americans are living with a mental health condition. Research College of Nursing (RCoN) offers an undergraduate course for students that focuses on nursing management of selected mental health issues across the lifespan.
We sat down with senior Stevie Tierney who is leading a local artistic movement to help break down stigma associated with mental health. Tierney has produced nearly a dozen works of art, displayed on a national scale, depicting various disorders such as: depression, schizophrenia, addiction and autism.
“A lot of people don’t see mental illness as a disease and think it’s just an excuse or something you can get over,” said Tierney. Using art as an escape from her own battles with depression and anxiety, Tierney has found a perfect pairing of art and nursing. “Before I started painting, I was thinking of how I can make people feel a peace of mind for their own illness and help others to realize the importance of compassion.”
Since attending her first conference in 2016 with academic advisor Holly Miles (pictured above), Tierney has been able to present her artwork at distinguished events including the Mental Health America of the Heartland, American Psychiatric Nurses Association and the National Alliance of Mental Illness.
“The mental health field is so critical to nursing and it’s wonderful to see the growing interest of nursing students pursuing the specialty,” said Holly Miles, RCoN assistant professor and Tierney’s faculty advisor. Prior to clinical rotations, Miles provides nursing students with a glimpse into a patient’s world through a simulated experience of auditory hallucinations—while being challenged to complete a task.
She shared how this simulation impacts one’s nursing practice, “I try to help my students understand that you go into this field with a different mindset because you never fully cure a mental health patient. Instead you’re teaching them how to manage their illness, which is different from traditional nursing roles. But it’s incredibly rewarding when you can build deeper relationships with patients, give them hope and help them take their life back.”
"…it’s incredibly rewarding when you can build deeper relationships with patients, give them hope and help them take their life back."
Not unlike many RCoN faculty, Miles has gone above and beyond her advisor role to help Tierney develop business cards, create a portfolio and even book events to display her artwork.
Worried about how others may perceive her drawings, Tierney was nervous to reveal her creations to the world. She was met with an overwhelming response of positive feedback from the public and motivational support from her RCoN professors. Paying it forward, she donates proceeds from artwork sold to MHA of the Heartland – the non-profit that hosted her first presentation and sale.
Tierney dives into extensive research with each piece and has enjoyed being able to apply that knowledge in the hospital as a nursing student. “It’s never about getting my name out there. Being at RCoN constantly reminds me and encourages me on why I’m doing this. It’s great that I can be an influence to someone else to promote the importance and understanding of mental illness.”
To other nursing students looking to blend their passion with the profession, Tierney leaves words of advice: “Never give up! I don’t see anything as a failure anymore because everything is an opportunity. Any setbacks I encountered were just another opportunity to do something to help others.”
Pictured: Depression – the first work of art in Tierney’s mental health series.