Here is a simple song based on my feelings about the grief I have experienced. I hope that if you listen to it you will identify with it in some way, as nearly all of us have been through some kind of grief or loss in our lives.
My intention is that if you are thinking of going to watch the Good Grief short films, this song will resonate with you in some way and encourage you to see them. I believe they will address this difficult and often taboo subject in a moving yet helpful manner.
by Lorna Stewart
Good Grief is a programme of short films to encourage dialogue about mortality. Curated by filmmaker and visual artist Theresa Moerman Ib, it takes place at 7pm on Saturday 29 October at Edinburgh Printmakers as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival.
On Tuesday 25 October, between 1pm and 3pm to be precise, the happiest place on the planet would have to have been the Orbiston Neighborhood Centre in Bellshill. For it was here that the mental health performance group Fool On were performing their show In Time You Will Recover.
This cabaret style show revealed the hidden talents of a few mental health sufferers, who, through months of practice, have honed their performing skills and thrown away the shackles of their anxiety, enabling them to take to the stage.
It wasn’t just in admiration that the audience watched on. It was also in awe too, as the level of talent shone through with each and every performer. There was singing, comedy, magic and by the beginning of the second part, dancing. But this dancing display didn’t come from the performers. No, it was the audience themselves, as the atmosphere rubbed off on them and they loosened their shackles, making this event a fun place to be and a total success.
But this show wasn’t just about pleasing the audience, it was also about the performers and the goals they achieved through exposing themselves to the scrutiny of an audience. That’s very brave thing to do, especially considering their mental health backgrounds, and I must say that one of my highlights was seeing the huge smile on each performer’s face as they finished their set and saw the acclaim and approval from the audience.
Fool On, keep up the good work! And a big cry out to the performers: Stuart, Charlie, Auld Tam, Big Jim, Tee Jay, Steffi, Nicola and the mouthorgan man Tommy.
by Colin MacGregor
For more information about Fool On or to get involved, take a look at their website.
Colin has also produced this vlog about his own experiences with mental health and why he has got involved with the Talking Heads project:
Growing up is tricky at the best of times, navigating the complex choreography of schoolyard bullies, endless homework assignments, grumpy teachers, and the sudden headrush of hopeless crushes and hormones. So imagine juggling all this and then adding an ill parent into the equation.
Invisible Army, written by Victoria Beesley and developed over the space of a year and a half with young carers at Glasgow South West Carers Centre, aims to show the reality of life for young people who are looking after family members with illness, disabilities or alcohol and drug problems. Yet the play neatly sidesteps full on heaviness by injecting a surreal twist, lifting the story out of the ordinary with humour, music and dance, while still preserving the vital elements of poignancy and emotional impact.
Directed by Emily Reutlinger, the one-act play follows a day in the life of Robbie (Michael Abubakar), a young boy caring for his mum (Rosalind Sydney) who is living with the debilitating aftereffects of a stroke. Life for them is divided into ‘before the incident’ and ‘after the incident’, revealing how illness can shift reality into a different dimension altogether. Alice Wilson’s inventive set design helps bring this to the fore, with Robbie at one point falling into the ‘crack’, a space of unwitnessed struggle which graphically symbolises the risks faced by young carers in a society that is all too often unaware of their existence.
Beesley seems to suggest that imagination can either offer a welcome escape into fantasy or risk spiralling out of control. The blurring of the real and the imagined is at once the source of humour and a sign of overwhelming emotion, as we follow Robbie’s attempts to cope with all the competing demands of a single day. Interludes of dance (choreographed by Tony Mills), music (performed by Dan Beesley on stage) and dramatic lighting (Elle Taylor) shift the mood between mental suffering and madcap hilarity, touching on moments of heartbreaking honesty before skittering off into wit and physical comedy. As the young carers write in the play’s programme: ‘It was important to us that it wasn’t all doom and gloom’, and this mix of emotions reflects their lived reality, experiencing both the positive aspect of caring for loved ones along with the negative effects of anxiety, exhaustion, missed days of school and social isolation.
According to the Carers Trust website, there are an estimated 700,000 carers under the age of 18 in the UK, coping with the practical running of households - cleaning, cooking, shopping - as well as the physical symptoms and emotional needs of the people they care for. While the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, coming into force in 2017, promises to provide more assistance for adult and young carers from local authorities, Invisible Army highlights how easy it is for these young people to miss out. As the narrator tells us about Robbie: ‘He started becoming invisible the day he brought his mum home from the hospital’.
In a context of slashed services and benefits, and an ageing population in which Carers Trust estimates three out of five of us will become carers, Invisible Army focuses our attention on the importance of peer support and positive social affirmation. Terra Incognita, Beesley’s Glasgow-based arts organisation that shares ‘the extraordinary stories of ordinary people’ such as Robbie, shows us the transformative power of creativity and art. Connecting the invisible army of young carers in co-creation, this play helps to highlight a social phenomenon that might otherwise remain unseen, harnessing their resilience and emphasising empowerment over pity. As the young carers put it themselves: ‘We wouldn’t change our situation. It’s who we are.’ Faced with such a reality, it’s surely up to the rest of us to ensure they receive the recognition and support they deserve.
by Clare Blackburne
Invisible Army was part of Headspace, an annual programme of events held at Platform as part of SMHAFF. Headspace's Epic Celebration Day takes place on Friday 28 October, to mark Platform's first decade. Click here for the full Headspace programme.
Talking Heads reporter Peter Johnstone reviews Alan Bissett's new play One Thinks of It All as a Dream, which was commissioned by the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival and is touring until Saturday 5 November.
Artists suffering with mental illness have always gripped the public imagination and the idea of a creative genius both shaped and destroyed by madness is a common trope.
Van Gogh and Brian Wilson are both common examples, but Alan Bissett’s new play One Thinks of It All as a Dream, commissioned by the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival, explores the less remembered tragedy of Syd Barrett, the original frontman of Pink Floyd.
Barrett’s unique and unusual lyrics came to epitomise the psychedelic drug culture of the late sixties, before he had to leave the band and move back into his family home, at least partly due to an LSD-induced breakdown.
The play’s strengths include the sharp dialogue, tender acting and beautiful stage design. Original Pink Floyd music is used throughout and if you’re looking for a lunchtime trip back to the sixties, this play is as good as it gets. Inkblot inspired colours light up the stage, in keeping with the different states of mind that Barrett and his bandmates are in.
The play is very emotive, but at some points veers towards the ghoulish. The last scenes showing Barrett overweight, bald and singing children’s stories were shocking, but appear clichéd and somewhat overstate the horror of Barrett’s later life.
However, the play does well in exploring the relationships within the band. As young men, living in a time largely ignorant about how to deal with mental illness, they clearly struggled to cope with Syd’s breakdown and battled with their consciences for the rest of their lives regarding what happened to him.
Sadly, the play does not veer far from the common narratives put forward in most television documentaries about Barrett. His life may have been marred by illness, but he was also very lucky compared to thousands of people going through similar problems. He had a family who loved him and looked after him, as well as royalty cheques that allowed him to live comfortably at home, rather than being forced onto the street or into a state run asylum.
Despite these issues, One Thinks of It All as a Dream is consistently enjoyable and captures the optimism of the sixties. It is definitely worth seeing for any Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd fans.
by Peter Johnstone
One Thinks of It All as a Dream is showing at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh until Saturday 29 October (daily 1–2pm, with additional evening show Friday 7–8pm), and The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen from 1-5 November (Tuesday–Friday 6–7pm, with additional lunchtime shows Thursday & Saturday 1–2pm). For ticket information and to book, click here.
Commissioned by the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival and co-produced by A Play, A Pie and A Pint, in association with the Traverse Theatre and Aberdeen Performing Arts.
This article was produced as part of our Talking Heads project. Click here for more information.
Life requires a lot of hard work and effort, and the harder working and more ambitious we are, the more successful we feel our lives ought to be. But what cannot involve any hard work or effort from us individually is being brought into this world, yet where that happens can have an extraordinary impact on our lives.
A Belgian baby has, so far in their extremely short life, worked no harder than a Ghanaian baby. However, the level of ambition for each child already differs tremendously. In a country as economically poor as Ghana, a great ambition for a newborn child is often, at some stage in life, to be accepted into Belgium’s economically superior society – something that a Belgian baby has already achieved, even before their brain is properly capable of processing memory.
Adams Mensah had achieved this common Ghanaian ambition by age 14, as he moved along with his sister to join his father in Belgium. This left his mother alone in Ghana, with a difference in life opportunities as vast as the distance between them. But why did this opportunity difference now exist between these people? Simply because he was a Belgian, his mother a Ghanaian.
Adams Mensah’s film, screening at this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival in a co-presentation with Africa in Motion, documents the director’s experience upon returning to Ghana, nine years after he first moved to Belgium. Six years prior to the making of the documentary, Adams’s mother suffered a severe stroke, in which half of her body became paralysed and she lost her ability to speak.
The film follows Adams’s engagements with his mother and focuses primarily on his efforts to bring her to Belgium to visit her family, although this proves far harder than Adams had foreseen. After a contracted struggle trying to acquire a visa for his mother, the film concludes with Adams describing how the situation made him finally give up, with his ever deteriorating mother never granted permission to visit her family.
What Adams highlights to us throughout the film, is the all-consuming role that health plays in all of our lives. As he approaches staff who work in the relevant embassies, involved with bringing his mother to Belgium, the contrast in their situations is painted clearly. Adams is there to try and give the woman who raised him a taste of the opportunity she granted him nine years ago, and to do so before her health inevitably worsens furthermore. He speaks to employees who are there almost daily, upholding regulation they did not write, primarily to ensure some level of financial success in their own life. It’s a difficult conversation for those involved and a difficult subject in which to reach a realistic and just conclusion in today’s world.
A good life can be well spent chasing ambitions and becoming ever better versions of our past selves. We can view society with wide eyes, see our goals, chase after them, and if we achieve success, embrace it and the happiness it brings to us and those we care about. But no matter how successfully we achieve these goals, and no matter how much we improve ourselves through our lives, if our health or the health of those that we love is threatened, we are forced to reinvent what that success means.
The extent of this reinvention can be a very personal affair, one which is very hard to relate to those who we do not know well. That was exactly the situation apparent in the conversation between Adams and the embassy staff member, where the life-altering milestone of one person is placed into the mundane routine of another. So what causes this diverse transaction of trusted compassion to take place so frequently in modern life? The simplest answer appears to be for financial reasons.
Healthy finances can help to ensure a healthy life, which is one reason why we spend so much time ensuring that we have them, in order to maintain our health and comfort. The member of staff in the embassy is doing just that when Adams approaches him. Reverse the positions of the two people and it is very likely the conversation would remain identical. The point is that Adams can no longer accept the embassy employee’s financial success as his primary ambition, just as he is incapable of appreciating Adams desperate situation, particularly as it is clear that it is not an uncommon one, in his line of work.
There is no implication that the embassy employee is specifically responsible for any wrongdoing, but the situation highlights how commonly our drive for financial success, which can be so detrimental to the health and success of others, can dissociate us from the rest of our lives. We may not be aware the strength of that drive, until we are put in a situation similar to Adams.
It is economics that separates Belgium so distinctly from Ghana and it is economics that allowed Adams to live in Belgium, but his mother not to. It is economics that drove the member of staff in the embassy to refuse Adams’s mother a visa, and it is economics that ensure the embassy and finances need to exist at all.
It is Adams’s clearly bewildered and astonished attitude to the situation he has suddenly been placed in that seems to be both the most damaging and important point in the whole film. What we so painfully miss throughout the world today is just how much love and care we are all capable of. Through appropriate education and restraining our economic and financial ambitions in relation to other aspects of our lives, the long term damage suffered by people like Adams and his mother can be limited.
Whether we are understanding of it or not, what Adams’s story in Me a Belgian, My Mother a Ghanaian makes clear, is that no matter what level of financial success we possess, or what impact birthplace has on our lives, the inherent helpless care that we have for the wellbeing of those we love, has the potential, ultimately, to bring equality for all.
by Callum McLean