By Crystal Harrell

The Riverside County Desert Behavioral Health Advisory Board has partnered with The River at Rancho Mirage to bring the Window Walk Gallery. Storefront windows feature eclectic art by local artists living successfully with mental health diagnoses as well as artists who support Mental Health Awareness. Starting September 5, visitors can stroll the full length of The River to see the entire gallery. The gallery is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and all donations for the art goes to the artists.

Every year in May, the Riverside County Desert Behavioral Health Advisory Board puts on an art show to celebrate May as Mental Health Month. This show typically brings in over 400 pieces of art with about 350 artists contributing. The gallery did not take place this year due to COVID-19 restriction efforts. About half of the art in the Window Walk Gallery was created for that cancelled show while the other half was from the generous and supportive local artists. In the current exhibit, there are over 100 different artists who have contributed to this year’s Window Walk Gallery.

The Riverside County Department of Behavioral Health and all their individual Clinics and Outpatient Programs are participating in generating the art for the gallery. Both the Desert Regional Administrator for Adult and Older Adult Services, Jim Grisham, and for Transitional Age Youth and Children’s Services, Kellly Grotsky, include art therapy in the services provided for the desert. Julie Carlson, Supervisor for the Full Service Partnership Program, and Susan Shapiro, Supervisor for Older Adults, have brought in art from their groups as well.

“There are about 230 pieces of art currently on display from all ages, children to older adults, which have come in from all over the desert areas from Coachella to Banning. It was a true labor of love for the artists to get their art out to The River during the lockdown combined with the intense heat of the summer,” said Vice Chair of the Riverside County Desert Behavioral Health Advisory Board, Janice Quinn, MD.

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Every county in California has a Behavioral Health Board. Riverside County is one of the only counties that split their board into regions because of the large geographical nature of the county. There are currently 15 members on each Board representing public, family, and consumer interests. The Desert Board meetings are held on the second Tuesday of every month at noon and are open to the public. The members usually meet in Indio at the County Adult Services Clinic, but are currently having Zoom meetings.

“People have a tendency to equate mental illnesses with examples like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but in reality, you could be working with someone who has a mental illness and never know it. Depression, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, and domestic abuse have all increased right now during the massive life changes from COVID-19,” explained Quinn, MD.

Quinn references the stigma that is often accompanied with individuals who have an illness associated with the emotional control of the brain. This stigma affects the ability to obtain needed and often long-term treatment just like someone with high blood pressure or diabetes needs long-term treatment. Quite frequently, most people do not even think about how their actions could affect someone dealing with a mental illness.

“Almost every organ in the body has been studied to identify all of the functions it provides for the health and well-being of the body. There is no stigma attached to a person having a heart-related disease such as high blood pressure, nor a kidney-related disease such as diabetes… A mental illness is a disease affecting the emotional functions of the brain. It could be your neighbor, your child’s friend, your work colleague, all ‘normally’ functioning members of society. No reason to attach a stigma,” stated Quinn.

For more information on the Window Walk Gallery, visit ranchomiragechamber.org or theriveratranchomirage.com.