The University of Newcastle, Australia

Mental health journey a sensory experience

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Bliss Cavanagh is a PhD Candidate in the School of Health Sciences who’s just been selected as a Young Social Pioneer by the Foundation of Young Australians. This incubator for young social innovators and changemakers is an important step for Bliss who’s been selected in the category of Youth Mental Health.

This intensive program is focussed on honing social impact – with participants having the opportunity to join in a community of other young, passionate changemakers to build leadership skills, work with mentors and have the opportunity to share in seed funding of up to $50,000.

Bliss was delighted when she heard that she’d been selected for this incubator program: “I really wanted this opportunity, I felt it was the next step for me and a great way to push myself to the next level and expand my ideas.”

Bliss studied a fine arts degree at UON before realising that her higher education path needed to lead in a different direction.

“My post graduate research required an interdisciplinary approach, which was realised through my supervision from Dr Carole James and Dr Kirsti Haracz from Health Science along with Dr Miranda Lawry from Fine Art. I was offered a scholarship through the Faculty of Health and Medicine, which has driven my arts health aims to explore the potential for real impact in mental health and wellbeing in creative ways.”

Art as a form of health communication is a rapidly expanding field. Bliss is crafting art that has a tactile, immersive experience that serves a dual purpose – soothing her soul, and nurturing those who experience her work.

“I feel that art is the bridge that can offer health benefits in a more accessible way. It’s the core of my PhD – combining aspects of multisensory therapy with the benefits of experiencing art to create this bridge between clinical health settings and mainstream culture to support mental health and wellbeing.”

Creating a vibrant, multi-sensory experience is part of the therapeutic journey that Bliss used to help herself come to terms with living with Tourette Syndrome. “It’s been a personal journey coming to terms with Tourette’s and it was through my art making I realised it as the valuable part of my creativity, and myself” says Bliss.

Studio Bliss [link: ] was set up by Bliss in 2013, with a store, workshop and sensory room bursting with colour, texture and light. It’s a relaxing, happy zone. Crafting large-scale sensory-art installations is something that Bliss used to channel the energy of Tourette’s – and this is where her PhD has led.

“As a child it would have been great to see a broader representation of Tourette’s. One in 100 people have some form of Tourette Syndrome, and I feel honoured to advocate positive awareness for the disorder through my art.”

Bliss has a busy month. She exhibited a large-scale sensory-art installation at Newcastle Museum Five on Five exhibition, with five exhibits celebrating the museum’s fifth birthday at Honeysuckle (in five hours on August 5 from 5pm to 10pm).

Then Bliss is set to install her PhD research sensory-art space at UON’s Huxley Library opening mid August to October, and join the 2016 Young Social Pioneers cohort for the first of the programs intensive workshops at the end of August.

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