Summer CSGC Grant Update: Art Therapy & Mindfulness Kits for COVID & Cancer Patients at The Cleveland Clinic – Florida Medical Centers

More than 80% of hospitalized patients being treated for COVID-19 experience clinically significant symptoms of anxiety and depression. Many patients surviving COVID-19 also report cognitive deficits during and after hospitalization (Epstein et al, 2020). Having parents who were both frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, I learned of the many complications endured by hospitalized patients on the road to recovery. In addition to the physical hardship of having COVID-19, hospitalized patients experience the psychological distress of prolonged isolation and separation from loved ones or family. The patients experience long periods without human touch or face-to-face interactions. In a time of great uncertainty, the unknown was amplified by loneliness, isolation, and fear. The lack of comfort and connection contributed to the anxiety and depression experienced by the majority of hospitalized patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, I helped to create an Art Therapy & Mindfulness program for hospitalized COVID-19 patients at the Cleveland Clinic hospital in Florida. The project was completed in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic Arts & Medicine program. Art Therapy incorporates the use of art for therapeutic purpose aimed at reducing stress, anxiety, fear, trauma and depression. The process of art therapy provides a platform upon which patients can connect with their feelings and pain that are too difficult to express in words. Also, by engaging in the creative process of art therapy, meditation-mindfulness, and music, the patient focuses less on their illness and more on their inner resources. The initiative’s hallmark was the creation of Art Therapy & Mindfulness kits to be distributed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each kit included art-based and wellness activities including a mandala coloring book, colored pens/pencils, headsets, guided meditation cards, a playlist of relaxing music, and a stress ball. Over 400 kits were distributed to patients. In addition to the positive feedback from patients regarding the enjoyment and efficacy of the kits in stress reduction, we heard from many nurses and doctors about how the art therapy kits served to ease their emotional burden at work because their patients were less stressed.

Building upon the success of the 2020 pilot program, I requested a CSGC grant that would help me expand its reach to not only hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but also to cancer patients receiving on-site chemotherapy. The purpose is to provide patients access to greater resources for emotional wellness and stress relief during this time of prolonged isolation. For cancer patients, the stress is complicated by continued COVID-19 related restrictions and precautions that demand they often endure chemotherapy alone. With the generous support of the CSGC grant, I will be able to produce 100 additional Art Therapy & Mindfulness kits this summer and expand distribution to cancer patients at Cleveland Clinic cancer centers in Weston and St Lucie, FL.

Last summer’s pilot program enabled me to establish relationships with vendors for materials, source the components of each kit, and direct distribution to the patients. The current initiative is underway (as of 6/30/21) with materials ordered for the Art Therapy & Mindfulness kits. Additions to the kit will included an expanded list of resources for online meditation and podcasts for stress reduction. To measure the success of the program, I will provide a survey with each kit for patients to complete. The anonymous survey (for privacy) will ask the patients to rank how helpful the kit was in improving mood, relieving stress, and increasing interest in wellness promotion during their treatment.

I am grateful to the Deerfield Academy CSGC for making this program possible. I look forward to providing an update later this summer when the kits are ready for distribution to patients.

-Kaitlyn Kelly ’22