At 3 a.m. in Library West, students sip their last drops of Starbucks and tremble in fear of failing exams and not living up to expectations.
College students struggle with severe stress and anxiety. The spectrum for mental health is broader than most people realize said Jeffrey Pufahl, Arts in Medicine faculty member.
The UF Center for Arts in Medicine assists students by teaching them to use the arts to cope with stress and mental health issues.
“It is everything from stress and anxiety to depression, and it’s important that we as a community recognize that,” Pufahl said.
Pufahl leads programs and groups that use improv to help with stress relief, which has been proven to cause shifts, he said.
Every day, pre-med students grit their teeth and “pull through” organic chemistry. Engineering students struggle to pass physics. Students across campus lose sleep and sanity to scrape by in their academics.
The college takes care in encouraging non-arts students to retain their creative side, said Camilo Munoz, the marketing and admissions coordinator for Arts in Medicine.
Faculty prioritized visting student classrooms to discuss the arts Munoz said.
“They’ll talk to medical students and encourage them not to lose their humanity, to not give up their creative spirit because a lot of med students get bogged down with their classes,” he said.
Art is something that distinguishes humans from other animal species because it involves emotion and psychology, Munoz said.
“The arts are the way that we make meaning,” Munoz said. “When we make something special out of our surroundings, we are able to take what we can’t put into words and express it through art.”
The mission of the Center for Arts in Medicine is to make art accessible to all students and staff members at UF to benefit from mentally and physically.
“You can find what speaks to you,” Munoz said. “It could be just having a bucket of paint and a giant tarp that students can just splash paint on.”
One of the most positive impacts the arts have on mental health is the creation of community.
According to Munoz, any art form can be tactile, and the social nature of the arts helps with developing stronger connections.
Pufahl said he works with the Center for Arts in Medicine to open up a theater program within the healthcare context.
We have the most success working with people who have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and anxiety disorder Pufahl said.
“We’ve been using theatrical storytelling with that group as a means to create community,” he said. “People come together and find that community they didn’t have before.”
According to Pufahl, the groups examine skills in improvisation and storytelling in order to explore more emotional realms and connect with humanity sources.
Pufahl said social structures are formed and resilience is formed as a result.
Leah Vicencio, a 19-year-old UF theater sophomore, and Stephen Peters, a 21-year-old UF musical theater junior, recently developed a strong community while directing the Florida Players’ production of “Columbinus,” a documentary-style play depicting the Columbine school shooting.
“I wanted to check in with the actors at the end of each week,” Peters said. “We were trying to keep things upbeat and funny since we were handling serious material and tell it as honestly and effectively as possible.”
Vicencio said it was essential they all take time to process the serious material they were dealing with and supported each other when presented with delicate mental health situations in the play.
Whether it be through theater, visual arts, film or music, the arts are ever present throughout the UF community, and students have access to creative outlets all over campus in order to cope with any situation.
“Coping is being able to have help from someone or something when you need it,” Munoz said. “The arts can help even in small ways. If you can’t call someone, pick up a pencil and draw. It will help, even if it is just a little bit.”