The Arts & Mental Health

The Global Mental Health Program at Columbia University is reducing stigma, increasing understanding, and building capacity for mental health around the world through education & training, research, and advocacy & the arts. Our Innovation in the Arts Award recognizes the arts as a means to engage populations across communities and cultures around the concept of mental health, and to convey messages that can counter misunderstanding, fear, and prejudice. We present the award each year to an extraordinary artist breaking down barriers in the global conversation about mental health.



On November 9th, the Global Mental Health Program presented JAVIER TÉLLEZ, acclaimed Venezuelan artist and filmmaker, with the 2nd Global Mental Health Award for Innovation in the Arts. Son of two psychiatrists, Tellez’s award-winning films and installations question definitions of normality and pathology, diminishing stereotypes associated with mental illness. Our program will include film clips, lecture, and discussion with this extraordinary artist. The event was moderated by John Hanhardt, Consulting Senior Curator, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

2nd Annual Innovation in the Arts Award

Using film, video, and installation, Javier Téllez (b. 1969, Valencia, Venezuela) questions definitions of normality and pathology. Tellez’s 2005 video One Flew over the Void (Bala perdida) documents a parade organized by the artist in Las Playas, a town on the border of Tijuana and San Diego, which featured ordinary citizens and patients from a local psychiatric hospital (the last disguised behind animal masks and wielding signs protesting various injustices). The action ends with a human cannonball being shot over the border into the United States, underscoring the hardships faced by the millions of Mexican and Central American workers who cross the border illegally every year in search of a better life. Read more about Mr. Téllez here.

“Téllez is earnest in his attempt to engage in an ethical, consequential manner with communities of individuals who live outside of the models of normative behavior that define the parameters of a ‘sane’ society but that are constantly shifting in relation to the ideological structures that determine this social order.” – Michele Faguet


Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen of Pixar Animation Studios have revolutionized the conversation around mental health through their portrayal of emotions in the animated film Inside Out, earning them the inaugural Global Mental Health Award for Innovation in the Arts. After treating the audience to a stunning inside look at the five-year creative process that went into making of the film, Mr. del Carmen accepted the award on Pixar’s behalf and thanked the University for recognizing their groundbreaking efforts to bring heightened emotional intelligence into family conversation around the world.


Janet Montag, Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Global Mental Health Program presents the Global Mental Health Award for Innovation in the Arts to Ronnie del Carmen, Pixar Animated Studios Co-Director.


Past Features

  • The Tohoku Theater Project is a unique initiative between the GMHP at Columbia, Outside the Wire, and several Japanese theater companies, that employs theater as a medium through which to illuminate and help to heal the pain and suffering in the wake of the March 11th, 2011 Tsunami disaster in Japan. For more information on this particular initiative visit:
  • On October 16th, 2013 the Columbia University Seminar on Global Mental Health hosted a seminar featuring freelance photojournalist Robin Hammond, whose award-winning work in the fields of human rights and international development demonstrates how artistic mediums can be engaged to advocate on behalf of the mentally ill. Robin discussed his experiences documenting mental illness throughout sub-Saharan Africa, presenting photos from his recently published book — ‘Condemned’ — which aims to raise awareness about the suffering and injustices individuals with mental illness are subject to in certain regions of the world. For more information on Robin Hammond, his work, or his book, please visit:
  • In honor of World Mental Health Day (October 10th) this year, we shone a light on ‘Hidden Pictures’ – a film from Director Delaney Ruston about the underexposed world of Global Mental Health. For details about this ‘global screening’ event, download the [PDF] and to learn more about the film, visit:


Arts & Mental Health In the News…

Research on the Arts — Mental Illness Nexus:

Potash, J. S., Ho, R. T. H., Chick, J. K. Y., & Au Yeung, F. S. W. (2013). Viewing and engaging in an art therapy exhibit by people living with mental illness: implications for empathy and social change. Public Health, 127, 735-744. [PDF]

Koh, E., & Shrimpton, B. (2013). Art promoting mental health literacy and a positive attitude towards people with experience of mental illness. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 1-6. [PDF]

Rustin, T. A. (2008). Using artwork to understand the experience of mental illness: mainstream artists and outsider artists. GMS Psycho-Social Medicine, 5. [PDF]

Stickley, T., & Duncan, K. (2007). Art in Mind: implementation of a community arts initiative to promote mental health. Journal of Public Mental Health, 6(4), 24-32. [PDF]