UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital this week unveiled a new Matt’s Maker Space at the child and adolescent acute partial hospital and intensive outpatient program, located on Pittsburgh’s South Side. The space is designed to integrate STEAM activities— Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math—into a behavioral health program for kids and adolescents who are struggling with mental health issues like suicidality, self-harm or mood disorders.
This is the first Matt’s Maker Space to open in a behavioral health setting, where STEAM activities will allow pediatric behavioral health patients to express themselves using more than just words.
“We are truly grateful for this commitment from the Conover family,” said Deborah Brodine, president of UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital and Senior Services, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the space. “We are so thrilled to have this maker space and we will be thrilled to host a second opening at a location in UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital soon.”
Matt’s Maker Spaces are made possible by the Conover Family who launched the initiative in honor of their son, Matt, who lost his battle with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2002. The Conovers wanted to bring Matt’s memory to life and have opened 28 spaces throughout the Pittsburgh area, with plans for additional spaces to be added. In 2018, UPMC Children’s became the first hospital location to receive a Matt’s Maker Space.
“Matt’s Maker Spaces are at the cutting-edge of STEAM education, and they’re the kind of spaces that allow children to learn in unique and creative ways. We know that maker spaces can be part of the healing process. This space will provide opportunities for children to create, collaborate and dream in a judgement free zone, as part of their therapeutic evidence-based treatment,” said Noelle Conover, co-founder & executive director of Matt’s Maker Space.
“What we can do here is really give our kids the experiences that will help them discover different parts of their brain, different parts of their being, and express themselves in ways other than words, because not everyone can use words when they’re upset. But getting dirty, making art—this is fun, and fun gets us better, even in the worst of times,” said Dr. Abigail Schlesinger, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at UPMC Western Psychiatric and UPMC Children’s Hospital.
UPMC Western Psychiatric’s child and adolescent acute partial hospital and intensive outpatient program serves nearly 40 patients per week who will now be able to incorporate STEAM into their behavioral health care. The treatment model is centered around therapy, teaching patients to “live in the moment” and helps them to develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate their emotions and improve relationships with others.
“The use of maker activities will create an open space for patients and families to acknowledge how their emotions are impacting them, and shift towards healthier emotional regulation. We believe this is a great fit, as it’s a safe space where mistakes are allowed, and getting messy is part of the process,” said Sarah Fallica, program director of UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital.
The Conover Family hopes that the space will help to reduce stigma surrounding mental health conditions, and to allow a safe space for kids to get better.
“You see, Matt was diagnosed with cancer, not a mental illness, so there was no stigma, just support. We know that had our son been diagnosed with depression, or anxiety, or schizophrenia, the world would have left us alone,” said Conover. “We know that the consequence of stigma on teenage mental health is that kids don’t get the treatment that they need. We also know that providing a safe, inclusive space where students can come together will help their mental health, and we hope that by donating this space, it will clear the way for others to follow and help change attitudes towards those with mental health challenges.”