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Billings teacher uses art to help students cope with mental health challenges

Posted at 7:22 PM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 21:22:29-05

BILLINGS — One teacher at Billings West High School is using art as guidance. She’s helping students manage their mental health challenges in a creative way as well as extinguishing the stigma of talking about mental health.

“Students struggle from all sorts of things. They have stressors every single day,” said art teacher Tori Wardrip.

Wardrip created the art-infused program back in 2017. She calls it Creative Courage.

“Creative Courage is just a safe space for them to come and express themselves free of judgement without fear,” Wardrip said.

For the past 30 years, Montana has ranked among the top five states for suicides. Throw in a pandemic, and students have faced even more mental health challenges.

During the 12-week program, Wardrip holds discussions and check-ins with students. The topics change weekly from coping with depression and anxiety to discussing health alternatives to self-harm.

“Then we have an art activity. That can be anything from comfort boxes, which is where you express and portray your challenges on the exterior, and on the interior, you put things that are positive to help lift you out of that,” Wardrip said.

She leads students through meditation and mindfulness techniques. They’ll create mood mandalas and mood trackers to pinpoint how they’re feeling.

“You can use those visual aspects to say things that you wouldn’t be able to normally,” Wardrip said.

Wardrip started Creative Courage back in 2017 when she was at Lewis and Clark Middle School. One of her former students, Joe La Ve, attended the program in 2018.

“I think Creative Courage was one of the few places where I felt 100% safe. At least I had a place to express myself without being judged,” La Ve said.

The inspiration behind the program came from a very personal place when Wardrip herself was struggling with clinical depression.

“Had I known at a younger age that it was okay to not be okay, it wouldn’t have been so difficult for me to come out and start to get help,” Wardrip said.

Now, she uses her own struggles to guide her students towards a better head space, one day at a time. Creative Courage will officially begin at West High School on March 24. However, students from all schools are welcome.