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VA Maryland Health Care System


Health Watch: Fall Winter 2017-2018

Colored pencils

Creating a Bright Future,
One Picture at a Time

Vernon Diggs
Vernon Diggs found relief from illness through art and self-expression. Completing art projects changed his life by helping him focus and giving him a sense of accomplishment.

At first, when presented with coloring books, Veteran Giles Diggs thought of a million things he'd rather do. "I wasn't interested in coloring books," said Diggs, whose life changed due to illness and injury in ways that caused him to be unable to focus on anything for any length of time. "But I did it anyway."

What began as a chore offered by a nurse at the VA Maryland Health Care System changed Diggs' mindset and his life. "Over the course of three to four months of coloring, I felt good that I could complete something, even if it was a picture."

Diggs found satisfaction in completing a coloring project and appreciated the fact that art gave him another form of self-expression. "It helped me. It helped me to be patient, to not rush, to sit and focus on something. The art helped me to open up by doing something good for my soul."

Diggs is among a small cohort of Veterans who are using art as a means of expression on the road to recovery. Veterans in the Mental Health Intensive Case Management (MHICM) program and the Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center (PRRC) program at the Baltimore VA Annex have worked closely with Sharon Reese, RN, and Kimberly Robinson-McCray, RN, to advance their wellness goals. In the MHICM program, they developed goals that aided Veterans' re-integration into the community by using adult coloring books as a way to structure leisure time. Veterans report a sense of hope and accomplishment, which is critical to the recovery process.

In the PRRC program, Robinson-McCray facilitated a group project in which Veterans produced a Recovery Mural. Group activities build upon teamwork skills—a strength for Veterans, especially those struggling with putting their distress into words or who have difficulty engaging in other activities. "Veterans with these struggles gravitate naturally to art as a means of self-expression, especially when they are supported by a clinician and a therapeutic environment," said Cynthia Johnson, MS, RN, Chief Nurse for the Mental Health Clinical Center.

These art projects demonstrate the Whole Health Initiative in action. The Whole Health Initiative helps to foster a healing environment that provides personalized care for each Veteran. "Similar projects are now taking place on the inpatient units," said Rosemary Jomidad, BS, RN, Assistant Nurse Manager of Outpatient Mental Health. The Whole Health approach draws upon the Veterans' instinctive capacity to heal when empowered to create their own personal health plan in conjunction with clinicians. Nursing was approved for a grant from the new Whole Health Initiative and these art interventions will be further enhanced by the use of music and aromatherapy.

"It was a great team effort which was built upon the idea of improving patient care in a creative and individualized way, consistent with our commitment to Whole Health and patient-and–family-centered care," said Johnson, adding that "soothing music often sets a mood for Veterans to feel safe in being creative and expressive."

For Diggs, the art initiative brought him more than he expected. "I never thought I'd be interested in art, in what other people draw and paint, but now I feel fulfilled."

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