Changing Minds Festival 

Bringing the topic of mental health out of the medical setting into the mundane reality is an important and laudable endeavour – particularly when it comes to the arts. I fear that some of the less knowledgable, or less open minded, might see any link as implying that severe illnesses can be ‘cured’ by a mindfulness colouring book, or biological disorders solved with only a short dance and a pretty picture.

Changing Minds, the weekend festival at the Southbank Centre about the role of arts in mental health and the intersection between the two was a fabulously balanced collection of events curated and presented by experts (whether that’s professional or from lived experience). Entertaining and informative, the six story building was awash with people curious to learn more.

A complex blur of physical, emotional and environmental triggers, there is no one size fits all solution. It’s the same for physical health of course, but we can see that, so as visual beings tend to find it easier to understand. Art and creativity can do everything from take the edge off to literally saving a life by providing a lifeline. There’s evidence that the arts can have significant impact upon health outcomes in studies by Arts Council and the National Alliance.

The programme was filled with talks covering everything from how humour can take the sting out of shame with comedians Jack Rooke and Sofie Hagen, how therapists can be ore creative (a panel including Nicola Crooke and Paul Gurney), the place of art versus chemicals (Jo Marchant, Rachel Kelly, Danny Cunningham), what the words ‘mental health’ actually mean (Bobby Baker, David Adam) and more.

There was also the opportunity to try some of the ways in which art can enhance wellbeing, and participants were invited to move the body through dance with Yunkong Song, read poetry alongside Ellie Stamp or craft in Amy Brown’s workshops. Stalls from Mind, Rethink, Time To Change, CALM, Biblio, Bethlem, Lambeth LivingWell, B-EAT and Articulate made for a vibrant area of exchange and inspiration. There was also the opportunity to try some of the ways in which art can enhance wellbeing, and participants were invited to move the body through dance with Yunkong Song, read poetry alongside Ellie Stamp or craft in Amy Brown’s workshops.

The weekend was a reminder than open and honest dialogue, mutual partnerships and curiousity are crucial to changing the perspective of mental heath, but also that it is happening. The spectrum between illness and wellness is a grey one. Good mental health isn’t about not being crazy. It’s about being comfortable, communicating, and connecting.

Sometimes art can be the tool to make that happen.

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