Every year, the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) has a theme, and this year’s theme was Reclaim. For me, Reclaim is about getting back some part of life that has been lost, maybe through illness or trauma, where people are looking to reclaim some independence.

This year’s events focussed on topics like overcoming addiction, the art of the written word to convey how we feel and think, how music and dance supports mental health wellbeing and recovery, and the way people cope against the adversity of different mental health conditions.

People from all walks of life were covered in this year’s SMHAF events, from the working man and woman, to a Hollywood icon, teenagers on the cusp of adulthood struggling with their identity, those with a disability trying to make their voice heard, and those who had lived, and died, through the trauma of addiction.

I went along to an event at Paisley Town Hall called Making Our Mark, an inclusive session led by community arts projects in Renfrewshire, including Limelight Music and Dirty Feet Dance company. These projects give a platform to talented performers with a disability to not only express themselves but to showcase their talents and the work that goes into their performances. A crucial part of mental wellbeing for those with a disability, I feel, is not just self-expression, but gaining respect and recognition for ability, rather than a perception of disability.

I also attended an event at St Matthew’s Church, Paisley called Dykebar and Me, a screening of a film made by men from the Lifeline Recovery Group in Renfrewshire about their stories of alcoholism, addiction, struggle and recovery. Afterwards, there was a Q&A with some of men who took part in the film, and as part of the Talking Heads project I recorded this interview with them.

As much of their adult lives has been consumed by alcohol addiction, these men had lost all contact with their families and their journey towards reclaiming began when they took those first steps into recovery. Many of them have been sober for up to 20 years, and some less than two years. Several have relapsed a number of times, and sadly one man passed away after being sober for over six years.

What I’ve taken away from the time I spent at events at SMHAF is that mental health doesn’t just affect any one type of person, it affects everyone, of all ages, races and backgrounds. Reclaim is the common theme, not just for this festival, but in life. It is important for society to continue to challenge, question and change the perception of mental health issues, and to champion all forms of support, progress and initiatives in promoting wellbeing.

by Michael McEwan

Michael has a learning disability and is a motivational speaker who talks about challenge, stigma and his own experiences finding employment. He previously worked for the Scottish Consortium for Learning Disabilities (SCLD), presenting to organisations including the Scottish Government and the National Autistic Society. Find out more on his website.