Co-authored with Dr Yasmine Van Wilt, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Mellon Fellow at Union College, Kobalt/AWAL singer-songwriter, dramatist, academic, and contributor to Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global.
This interview with Psychologist Kathy Pike is the third of a series of interviews with extraordinary people who are working in partnership with or using their skills and training as artists and humanists to improve their communities, challenge assumptions, and advance our understanding of the human condition.
YVW: How did you forge your path?
I started out as an undergraduate interested in understanding different cultures. I was actually an international studies major as an undergrad. I thought that I would pursue a career that was explicitly focused on foreign service or international policy within the world of political governance, but the further I delved into this, the clearer it was that what really fascinated me was the people I met…and my desire to understand these stories led me to a desire to understand and rationalize the human condition. So I went on to study psychology because it allowed me to develop a theoretical framework for examining the human condition.
At this point in my career, I am able to bring these two passions together. I am now able to examine how people who struggle with illness are made vulnerable…because of the diseases that affect them and because of the relationship between the cultures of states and nations and how these crises are negotiated. So this is helping me to promote health, to eliminate prejudice and discrimination that individuals with various mental health conditions experience and to promote a broader embrace of the wide range of human experiences. Virtually all people will experience or be impacted by mental illness, either through personal experience or through proximity with someone who is suffering. We know that 1 in 4 people experiences a mental health challenge in a lifetime. Looking at the simple math of the family nucleus…within one arm’s length, we will come into proximity with someone who has had a mental health condition at some point.
And through my collaboration with the arts and artists, I have come to realize how poorly understood mental health really is. There are so many myths and misperceptions, and so in an effort to engage a broader segment of the population around these issues, I have increasingly expanded my commitment and interest in engaging the arts….the arts bring voice and expression to experiences that must be articulated.
YVW: Can you describe the ways in which you have seen communities react to these partnerships?
One project that I’d like to highlight is the Tōhoku project. It involved working with community members who were affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that devastated the region and displaced many people. There were enormous mental health repercussions. Many died, many were impacted, many lost love ones…the Tōhoku region, which was the area most significantly impacted is also a region that has relatively less exposure to concepts and models for mental health…and comparatively less discussion about the available methods for mental health support.
Those who studied the impact noticed significant increases in anxiety, depression, suicide…and they reached out to me in order to develop a program so that I could work with communities to raise awareness of the impact of the stress that they were experiencing and raise awareness of the services available.
For the full interview, please go here