Porch Light Program proves promising outcomes for future of mental health

By Shealyn Kilroy

Philadelphia is known for its relationship with art. The city’s Mural Arts Program and Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) are building a deeper relationship using public art to address public health and wellness for Philly’s many communities through the Porch Light Program. Through giving back, Porch Light is actually making an impact in the city.

The Porch Light Program  organizes and brings together artists, people of the community, service providers, and others to work on a public art project. In a shared space, the program works to build a tighter social bond and shed light on health issues that are stigmatized to bring empathy, not exclusion. These public art projects have been murals and large artworks done in collaborative workshops.  The program’s goals are aimed towards improving individual, community, and public health.  This includes reducing personal and social stigma and increasing awareness about mental health on a public scale.

How can art make a change? How can art truly serve as a “catalyst for change?” We hear about art therapy used all the time as a recovery and healing method for those with mental illnesses, but how do we know if the Porch Light Program is actually making an impact? Yale University School of Medicine wanted an answer to “Can public art promote public health?” like the Mural Arts program strives to do. Yale University School of Medicine evaluated the impact of the program for four years and published its findings in June 2015.

The sites that the Yale University School of Medicine evaluated are shown on the following map:

Yale University School of Medicine assessed individual outcome of the Porch Light Program. Using Cohen’s d, an effect size statistic, Yale University School of Medicine found decreases in reported rejection, stress, and use of secrecy to cope with stigma in individuals after attending multiple workshops at Porch Light Program “Site A.”

The above graph shows that Porch Light positively impacted individual’s relationship in terms of their mental illness. “The modest positive effects of the program are especially promising, given the small sample size available,” reports Yale University School of Medicine

Porch Light Site A’s outcome on individuals was then compared to a similar program with similar demographics:

The above comparison proved promising for Yale researchers. The above comparison proves that individuals who participated in Porch Life had greater results than those who participated in another program. Researchers found:
“A relative decrease in the use of secrecy to cope with behavioral health stigma.
A trend-level relative decrease in the report of rejection experiences due to stigma.
A relative decrease in stress.”
As noted before, this was the same reported effects as the single site analyses of a Porch Light site. Having the same effects shown in a comparison proves just how Porch Light has a positive impact on individuals.

The study also conducted interviews with participants of the program. Common themes found in Porch Light participants were “friendship,” “hope,” “sense of self,” and “giving back.”

Hope was identified in quotes as “descriptions that exemplify or express an empowered and future-oriented sense of capability.” Porch Light participant Ben, whose real name is not disclosed for privacy, had a history of substance abuse and mental health problems and a life affected with trauma and poverty. Yale University School of Medicine reported that Ben described their definition of hope after attending the programs and workshops of Porch Light.

“I’ve always believed that anything can come true, but now I see the step process involved in getting there… I wanted to volunteer to be part of the art. It is soothing. Keeps my mind focused, keeps my mind clear and open. And I wanted to achieve my goals. Now it seems like I am going to get there,” said Ben in a case study interview.

With all of this evidence, Yale researches concluded that the Porch Light Program’s form of public art can promote public health.
To have a powerful overarching program bringing together a community can aid individuals and promote social change. Creating a collaborative piece of art socially connects people, creating a space that allows them to address mental health and other community issues. Not only does collaboration positively impact those involved, public art is visible to everyone: serving as a reminder, as a story, as a voice of the problems that need to be spoken about. The Porch Light Program has the power to make social change, and that is what paying it forward to Philly looks like.


Mural Arts Program Site  – Porch Light Initiative
Porch Light Program Manual PDF
Yale University School of Medicine Evaluation Study 

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