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Operation Santa Claus

Art therapy project helps lift spirits in Hong Kong

Programme seeks to boost participants’ self-confidence and social skills

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 10:18pm

The fruits in the picture were brightly painted. So was the little bird with a big round head appearing in a separate painting.

“I like bright colours. They make me happy,” Agnes Yeung Wai-ling, 74, said.

“When you feel down, you should go find something that can bring you happiness.”

Yeung, who recovered from depression, participates in workshops organised by the non-profit organisation Art in Hospital. The workshops were launched in recent years with support from Operation Santa Claus, an annual charitable donation drive organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK.

Art in Hospital seeks to use art for emotional expression and self-awareness to help patients build their self-confidence and enhance their social skills.

Yeung, a retired headmistress, joined the community art project about four years ago. She remains an active member and pays regular visits to recovering mental health patients at Kwai Chung Hospital.

The mother of two said she believed art could help people who suffered from depression. In her experience, its healing effect has been remarkable, leading her to conclude that “a person’s mind can heal itself”.

Hong Kong centre draws on the arts to help people with emotional issues

Yeung described focusing well when in a drawing class: “I’m affected by the atmosphere and begin to concentrate.” She said concentration could lead to positive personal changes.

She recalled gaining gratification from other hobbies like singing. But she decided to withdraw from a choir in August because she realised she was forgetful. “I had difficulty remembering the lyrics. I didn’t want to affect other choir members, and therefore I quit singing.”

Hong Kong aged care home using art therapy to help keep dementia sufferers’ minds active

Yeung said drawing enabled her to better understand her mind. “It takes patience to draw. If you want to draw something in your mind, you have to focus and be ‘honest’ with your paintbrush.”

It doesn’t matter whether they can paint well or not. It’s important that they have fun
Occupational therapist Dr Grace Lee Yuet-ying, on programme participants

Occupational therapist Dr Grace Lee Yuet-ying, who has taken care of Yeung for years, said the project with Operation Santa Claus’s support had helped many elderly people realise their dreams and become active again.

“I have seen many elderly people suffer from depression or dementia,” she added. “After joining the art workshops in hospital, their emotional well-being showed significant improvement.”

Lee has collaborated with Art in Hospital over the past five years and observed that the attention span of elderly patients improved after taking part in the workshops.

“[The elderly mental health patients] are able to focus on their artwork. Some of them are so keen to draw that they also participate in art exhibitions,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter whether they can paint well or not. It’s important that they have fun.”

Art workshops had also given participants hope, Lee said.

“The patients can see their strength when they embark on the road to recovery. We empower the patients to live a happy and meaningful life.”