Our Partners: Tarik Daniels Focuses on Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Through Art, Advocacy and Affirming Care

Stories@Gilead - May 28, 2020

Tarik Daniels, founder and Executive Director of the mental health awareness group Whatsinthemirror?, believes art has the power to do more than entertain – it can heal.

After witnessing the traumatic suicide of a neighbor, Tarik suffered from depression for years. His struggles were compounded by an HIV diagnosis, which led to self-doubt and mental health challenges.

“Life has taught me that I have to be the narrator of my story and not let stats and data dictate my own personal outcomes,” says Tarik. “As a Black queer man living with HIV, not only did I find it difficult to find a therapist who could understand my struggle, but I’ve also grown accustomed to not seeing experiences and people like me in media.”

A lifelong artist, Tarik saw firsthand the positive impact art therapy could have on mental health. In 2015, he drew from his personal journey and founded Whatsinthemirror?. The nonprofit aims to connect mental health clinicians of color with those in need of mental health services. Whatsinthemirror? also provides arts-based events and projects that seek to address social justice issues and eliminate the stigma around living with HIV and mental health issues.

“As a performing artist and writer, I saw an opportunity to merge my two passions of nonprofit work and art. It’s important to provide mental health support and advocacy, especially for people of color and those affected by socioeconomic inequalities,” he says. “I truly believe that mental health is an important topic with stigma that needs to be removed. We need to enlighten our communities about the alarming numbers of suicide rates and provide education around mental health and suicide prevention.”

In early 2020, Whatsinthemirror? launched the Art Heals Project with the support of a grant from Gilead’s COMPASS Initiative. The Art Heals Project is designed to highlight the intersection of mental health and HIV prevention work. The program’s goals are to reduce stigma, affirm care and raise awareness through art.

The Art Heals Project will culminate in the Art Heals Festival on Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Aug. 20. The multi-disciplinary festival, which may be redesigned as a virtual event, will include prominent speakers, diverse panels and the use of art as an educational and healing tool. The festival will also feature the premiere of the play, “SCHOOLBOY,” written and directed by Tarik. The play highlights the LGBTQ+ ballroom subculture and through fashion, dance and poetry tells a story of what it is to be a Black LGBTQ+ individual in America.

Tarik continues to cultivate a meaningful discussion on mental health and the arts through the Art Heals Project.

“It’s time to begin the conversation and do the work,” he says. “We need to spread love and kindness. We are the prevention.”

The Art Heals Project is seeking virtual submissions from artists, singers, dancers, healing and spiritual practitioners, and clinicians. Those interested in submitting art to the festival can do so here. Learn more about Whatsinthemirror? by following the nonprofit on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.