bridgeport Mural brings light, color to mental health program

May 22, 2018 GMT

BRIDGEPORT — Three brightly colored canvases hang on the wall inside Bridgeport Hospital’s REACH outpatient psychiatric office on Barnum Avenue.

Each canvas is adorned with silhouettes of children of various ages, shapes and sizes running, painting and reading in a rainbow of colors — purple, orange, red, blue, green and hot pink. Taken together, the canvases create a vivid, eye-popping mural.

Created by Trumbull artist Sharon Leichsenring, the piece is meant to bring some vitality and hope into the building, which provides mental health services for clients.

“I think the colors and the subject matter bring joy,” said Leichsenring, 66. “I think it’s uplifting and can raise the spirits.”

The mural is the fruit of the REACH Initiative, an effort to raise funds for the mental health program and create awareness of the need for mental health services. The REACH program was, until recently, largely supported by state funding, said Dr. Charles J. Morgan, Bridgeport Hospital’s chairman of psychiatry and behavioral health. But with ongoing state budget cuts, he said, “we were in danger of losing this.”

May is Mental Health Month, and mental illnesses remain pervasive in the country. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in six adults in the United States was living with a mental illness in 2016. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that one in five children ages 13 to 18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point in his or her life.

Though affiliated with Bridgeport Hospital, REACH is a freestanding office currently based in the Barnum Avenue Business Center. An array of mental health services are provided at the facility, including assessments, medication management, group therapy and after care planning.

The idea of such a vital program shutting down was catastrophic, said Donna Twist, vice president of the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation, which is the hospital’s fundraising arm.

To help preserve the program, foundation members and other interested parties started the REACH Initiative.

“We were trying to raise funds to help (REACH) stay out of the red,” Twist said.

Fundraising efforts for the clinic have included the hospital’s spring gala, “Dancing with the Hospital Stars” in April that raised more than $80,000 for programs including REACH and the Allison Family Neonatal Intensive Care Unit modernization project.

The mural is the first project funded by the REACH Initiative. And Twist said the fundraising effort will also work to provide an art therapist, another psychiatrist and other necessary staff and services. REACH was further helped by the fact that Leichsenring donated some of her time and effort in creating the project and provided it at lower than her regular cost.

Leichsenring said she’s done work for Bridgeport Hospital’s Norma Pfriem Breast Center. She said, when she was contacted about doing the REACH mural, “I was happy to do it. It’s sort of a good karma thing.”

The idea, she said, was to show the diversity of the children served by the program. Indeed, those affiliated with the program said they feel the artwork sends multiple powerful messages.

Morgan said the image of carefree children engaging in everyday activities is a message of hope for those receiving services at the facility.

“I think the mural is aspirational,” he said. Providing mental health services is “not just about where people are now. It’s about helping them to lead healthy, productive lives.”

The artwork might also make the often difficult process of seeking care for mental health problems a little less scary, said Jessica Maddern, REACH’s clinical coordinator of youth ambulatory psychiatry and behavioral health.

“There is still some stigma attached to mental illness and we wanted to bring that light and energy and vibrancy in here,” she said. The mural is “one of the first things people see when they come in and one of the last things they see when they leave.”

Those interested in contributing to REACH can visit foundation.bridgeporthospital.org and select “Mental Health-REACH Program” from the drop-down menu under the “Donate” button at the top of the page.