SHARE: Creating community through self-expression

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Many of us and our family, friends, and neighbors have faced isolation, new or worsening anxiety, fear, grief, depression, anger, moral distress, and loneliness this past year and a half as a result of the pandemic. The same is true for many of our clients, and pre-COVID coping strategies may be unavailable or inaccessible. While the future of the pandemic is uncertain, its impact on psychological and social health has been immense with a disproportionate impact on many of our communities, including LGBTQ+ older adults and LGBTQ+ adults with disabilities, individuals living with HIV, and women living with cancer.

Through a partnership with Mount Zion Health Fund and UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine’s staff and clinicians, Shanti began facilitating a creative online space for its clients in three of Shanti’s programs, HIV Services, the LGBTQ+ Aging & Abilities Support Network (LAASN), and the Margot Murphy Women’s Cancer Program.

The partners, via the program Sharing Humanity through Arts, Reflection, and Expression (SHARE) have facilitated the online space, which started in September 2021. SHARE’s goal is to develop an online program that fosters self-discovery of inner resources to promote social inclusion and strengthen individual and community well-being. Participating in activities around universal human emotions and authenticity will remind clients and participants they are not alone and connected to community.

To promote sustainable delivery, no previous art experience or materials are needed. The free online program offers many expressive mediums designed to highlight each person’s diverse background, experiences, strengths, and viewpoints. These include writing, drawing, body movement, sharing photos, guided meditation, listening to music, storytelling, and watching films. Engagement in the arts can widen the options for communication beyond words, potentially transcending language barriers through shared experience. Thoughts, feelings, and emotions can be communicated by relating to and sharing with others. Clients are encouraged to practice self-expression within and outside of the group space.

SHARE is unique for Shanti as it brings clients together from across three client groups. This creates a medically diverse environment that can expand clients’ awareness beyond their individual health situation and spark insights into their own condition. Participants may experience community and connection that can combat feelings of isolation, practice expressing themselves using new tools, and explore ways to reduce their stress and increase their well-being.

We are so thankful to Mount Zion Health Fund and UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine’s partnership in creating community and reducing isolation.

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