Reclaiming Our Heritage Project

Episode Five: How Stigmas Have Evolved Over Time

In this episode, Halina Rifai speaks to guest Wendy Halliday, Director at See Me, about how stigmas have evolved over the years with the help of testimonies from Rachel, Mahmud and Ruth from the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive.

Reclaiming Our Heritage is a Mental Health Foundation podcast inspired by its two-year oral history project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project’s aim is to record and preserve the spoken testimonies of the mental health community between the 1950s and early 2000s.

Each episode will explore themes that have come out of these spoken testimonies, and these will be further discussed by a professional guest. The full interviews by these contributors and others are available in the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive.

In this episode, Halina Rifai speaks to guest Wendy Halliday, Director at See Me, about how stigmas have evolved over the years with the help of testimonies from Rachel, Mahmud and Ruth from the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive.

The Reclaiming our Heritage project is funded by a number of donors including an “Our Heritage” grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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Episode Transcript

Rachel: It’s not so much the stigma, the bit that concerns me is that there’s not consistency sometimes in delivery, they don’t keep it going. And it’s this kind of short term fix for things.

Mahmud: Stigma has definitely been in existence from time immemorial, I would say, and not just stigma here within the UK or within Scotland. But globally.

Ruth: You can’t really draw a line between people that have experienced mental health problems and people that haven’t, you know, I can imagine people that haven’t or I don’t know one percent of the population or something, some weird yeah psychological makeup, so people were attracted to that.

Halina Rifai: Welcome to Reclaiming Our Heritage, a Mental Health Foundation podcast inspired by its two-year oral history project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project’s aim is to record and preserve the spoken testimonies of the mental health community between the 1950s and early 2000s. The full interviews by these contributors and others are available in the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive on the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival website.

My name is Halina Rifai and in each episode, I will explore themes that have come out of these spoken testimonials and these will be further discussed by a professional guest.

On this podcast, we’ll be exploring how stigmas have evolved over the years and hearing from different voices on this theme from the Reclaiming Our Heritage archive. 

We’ll also be exploring themes of creativity and the arts because the thing that “ties all these voices together is their involvement in mental health and the arts” Our expert on this episode is Wendy Halliday.

HR: Hello, Wendy, Hello, could you please introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

WH: Yes, I’m Wendy Halliday, and I’m director of See Me and See Me is Scotland’s national program that looks to end mental health stigma and discrimination. And we’ve been a partner to the Arts and Film Festival and the team in the MHA for a number of years.

HR: I just want to start briefly with your role in the organisation See Me. How are some of the ways that the organisation approach stigma?

WH: Sure, I think one of the things See Me has been around for a long time but actually having our 20th anniversary this year. So I think what that highlights is addressing stigma is not a quick fix. It’s something that we’ve got to continue to work at. The See Me programme has evolved over time really to respond to I guess it’s about response to shepherding picture of stigma in Scotland. But it’s also in response to or learning from our own experience, but also learning from other places that are taking an anti sigma approach. See Me started as a campaign way back and it’s evolved into quite a complex programme of work that seeks to look at and addressing stigma at a multitude of levels.

HR: Great. Now it might be a great point to explore some of the archived voices that we’ve had and talk about the theme further. Firstly, we hear from Rachel who was interviewed by Ben, born in 1971 and grew up in Drumchapel and moved to the Outer Hebrides when she was 10. She returned later to Glasgow studied at Cumbria Institute of Arts in Carlisle and she’s a community artist and has worked in a number of prison services in Scotland and with young offenders too – Barlinnie, Soughton, Parliament, and several hospitals started with Theatre Nemo and then delivered workshops within these aforementioned places. And she focuses on how creativity brings people together and offers a therapeutic platform for mental health issues.

[CLIP] RACHEL [Ben Interviewing]

BF: Could you tell us a bit about how the attitude towards using art or the arts in…to help mental health issues differed in prison to the psychiatric wards that you worked on.  I can imagine they were quite different, but I’d like to know more about that.

RT: Yes, it was quite different.  One of the things about, you know, like the criminal justice system is that, obviously, they have, sort of, health services within those institutions and then there’s the custodial aspect as well, and there is a big, sort of, differentiation between the two, and, you know, like, I think, there’s people who are maybe, sort of…you know, like prison officers maybe are more of a, kind of, custodial style and think people should be in there because of what they’ve done, but then there’s this, kind of, other aspect where there’s nurses and there’s psychiatric assessments and all those things go on within those institutions as well, and it, kind of…you need the right…people with the right attitude to, kind of, work in harmony with these guys and make those things work.

There was always challenges and it’s a difference of opinion and, you know, so…but the…primarily, my whole experience working in the, kind of…you know, like the recreational setting, if you like, or the space where they had designated for those activities, the staff there were extremely helpful and supportive, you know, and…as they should be.

BF: And going back to the, sort of, the issue of stigma that there is around mental health.  What ways have you recruited or…you know, in what ways have you come to work with the people who you’ve worked with given that there is a stigma related to mental health, and has that changed from early days to now? You’d hope that mental health awareness was changing, and it might be easier, but has that changed and how have you…

RT: I have to, kind of, be really honest and say I haven’t actually ever designed a whole project before.  I’m, usually, sourced in by organisations as a freelancer for ten weeks or 20 weeks or for whatever, and I don’t…well, that’s not entirely true, actually, because I did do a project up in Drumchapel last year, or the year before, and it was doctor…art on prescription.

It was supposed to be, and it was people were getting referred to, sort of, creative workshops as a, kind of, complimentary therapy alongside other things.  Yes, and I didn’t, actually, have a group to start with because I wasn’t getting any referrals.

I mean, I was in a room for about two weeks on my own, and I was getting really frustrated because I felt as though I was getting paid really well for not actually doing anything.  I, kind of, contacted the community liaison officers and, you know, like, I, kind of, went out myself as opposed to the people that had sourced me to do that.

I, kind of, took…used the initiative and got out there and, kind of, went and spoke to loads of people and then, you know, after 20 weeks we had like 15 people coming regularly, people popping in and out, and, you know, and it was amazing, but that was it, 20 weeks, boom, gone, that’s not great, you know, because those people really started to relying on that facility being there.

I think, that is, kind of, you know, like…it’s not so much the stigma.  The bit that concerns me is that there’s not consistency sometimes in delivery.  It’s…they don’t keep it going and it’s, kind of, short-term fix for things.

I think, men don’t, generally.  Most of the groups I participate in its mainly women, and that’s something that I think is really difficult because how do you get out there to speak to them and get them to come.  I mean, I have had men in my community groups, you know, but there’s a huge amount of mental health issues within men and it’s, kind of, they’re…they’re not…they’re not getting out there to, kind of, try things to see if it helps.

Women are much more open to that, I think, and I don’t know whether it’s this idea of, you know, it’s doing something creative’s a bit soft or, you know, I don’t know.  Yes, maybe, there is a bit of a stigma around how people with mental health issues feel, particularly, men.  I think, they find it difficult to, kind of, come to terms with saying out loud, I need help.  Yes.

BF: If it was normalised that the very active making and being creative, which in itself is beneficial for mental health, without needing to say, oh, come and do this art class, you know, if you’ve got a mental health problem.  If it was more a part of culture and a societal norm then perhaps that might deal with some of the stigmas related to having to, kind of, fess up, you know, if you’re automatically involved in a [inaudible 0:31:42]…

RT: Yes.  Yes.  I mean, the thing with…

BF: Yes, it’s…

RT: I mean, mental wellbeing, mental health, it’s such a big issue.  It’s massive, and, you know, it’s not going to get any better any time soon because of the current situation it’s just going to…there’s a big car crash waiting to happen, you know, and that’s a real concern because there’s all these charities and projects out there that are really vulnerable just now because they don’t know whether they’re going to be able to keep going and, you know, it’s constantly on the edge trying to, kind of, claw in funding to keep these amazing things going, and it’s, usually, people that as a result of personal experience have founded these things.  You know, personal sad losses or, you know, breakdowns, or whatever, and then they go out into the world and create this amazing thing as a result of that and then they’re, kind of, trying to, kind of, keep these things going and it’s a full-time job, if not more, to keep it going because you’re constantly clawing to make sure that there’s money to pay for, creative processes to be delivered within the communities.  There’s, you know…oh, it’s just…it’s crazy, yes.

HR: I have to start with the word stigma surrounding mental health in general, and just ask generally, because it’s, it’s a huge subject, and there’s so many different facets and nuances to it. What are some of the effects of this that you’ve witnessed through your work when it comes to stigma?

WH: It’s really interesting because people’s experience of stigma is so baby juicy, it’s complex. It’s across society. And what we try to look at is stigma really Aetna. bit of labels the stigma that people hold themselves, this thing that people hold for others. And I guess the attitudes and and prejudice that people carry, and the impact that those attitudes and prejudice has then when engaging with other people meeting other people speaking with other people, but in a sense, what we hear regularly is that stigma ultimately is about a judgment. It’s a judgment that people make and others and what it can often lead to is shame, shame for that person where they feel they’ve been judged, and that they are somehow feeling you know, it has an impact on individuals, from a self confidence point of view through by, I’m not a I’m not worthy, I’m not able that they believe that and what it can sometimes do is lead to isolation for many people loneliness isolation, where people just disengage.

HR: Yeah, Rachel highlights in that conversation, a difference of opinion that can arise when it comes to the type of health care and services available to people in prison, with some people thinking that because they’re in prison, they’ve done what they’ve done, and these perhaps shouldn’t receive anything else, or any greater service to them. And that can impact the care that they receive. On the flip side, it’s people, as Rachel puts it, have the right attitude and work in harmony to make things work. There’s a lot of judgment isn’t there around people situations where we have sometimes we have to kind of sometimes stand back and remember that everyone’s a human being, at the end of the day? Have you had much interaction when it comes to those types of situations with prisons and institutions via See Me? Or is that something that you’re on the periphery of?

WH: No, we’ve we’ve come across that and we work on that particularly. So I talked a little bit later big self stigma and the impact that that action had an individual’s but as we know, stigma runs at a number of other levels. So one of the other factors we would describe is the kind of structured or stigmas of the ways in which these organisations run, both in terms of their policies, their practices, and the beliefs of the professionals that work within them, can have a significant impact on how mental health is considered how it’s talked about the culture through which people feel free, unable to talk about mental health and mental illness. And the impact that that has. Our own theory is  really is born out from working directly with people with lived experience, what everybody wants as a human response to what everybody wants sensor respect. And with the safety do you find yourself and it’s only fear that people are treated in a way that really responds to their needs. And I think people are disadvantaged, particularly people with more complex mental health problems, who may be at times can champion for whatever it is the would be looking forward or, and rely on some advocacy and support for guessing the right kid or treatment or support in place. But I think what we’ve got to we constantly work to do and see me is to try and address some of those those barriers that get in the way of people receiving a human response, receiving a response that sphere and really matches their needs. And that actually leaves them in a place where they feel empowered and valued and respected. We can pin a human rights based approach and have done for some time.

HR: Yeah. And that’s just a simple way of putting it is that that human response? I think things can sometimes just become over complicated at certain levels. There’s perhaps also this stigma around the arts. It’s not only as a practice when it comes to the arts, but also for people to gain access as a means for mental health recovery and assistance. Have you seen that gain more acceptance?

WH: I think so. I mean, I think I’ve been a strong champion and advocate or looking exploring mental health through the arts, and the arts is just a medium a really good way of doing that. And I guess as a whole, you know, looking across all the different mediums from TV to, you know, books, scriptwriting, poems, videos, whatever it is, any creativity that allows us space and place for people to express and share their experiences, I think is particularly valuable. But I think it goes deeper than that too. Because I think one of the things is the arts brings connectivity, it brings people together. And one of the things we know about addressing stigma is we’re at workspace this bit people are working right alongside people who have no direct experience of mental health problems that illness and doing so in a way that brings them together as equals that empowers, you know all parties in that mix and gives them a place to express and to understand to have conversations and have attitudes challenged around that. And that’s I think that’s give a really good space for that the arts can really enhance everybody’s wellbeing, it can provide an opportunity for therapeutic intervention, you know, where somebody maybe needing more direct support, or where they would really benefit from coming together and being together. And that has a benefit to the wellbeing, but also the part about the creativity and the exploration around what it’s like to live with mental health problems, and ilnesss. And I think many of the projects that we’ve been involved in over the years have really been fantastically powerful in terms of bringing that story, bringing that real human story to peoples’ experiences, and in ways that can hopefully reach a range of different audiences so that some of those attitudes and perhaps prejudice and ultimately behaviors could change as a result.

HR: Yeah. So I’m going to move on to my Mahmud, who was born in 1977, interviewed by Ros and grew up in Iraq. At five years old, moved to Babylon, and then he moved to the UK. He’s a community development worker, and Mahmud has years of experience facilitating and organizing projects about mental health, and certainly circles that I’m sure we’ve both been part of as well. And for the past 12 years, he’s worked with Vox Scotland, and within his role coordinated the Moving Minds Festival, which was a national diversity and mental health day of events as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. So let’s hear from Mahmud…

[CLIP] MAHMUD [Ros Interviewing]

RM: With the Festival, what kind of people are you trying to reach, with your audience, like an age-range or a background?

MAG: I think, myself, it’s everyone and anyone and, you know, there’s no real age range. We’ve had all, and, obviously, we’ve had pieces of creativity that do have an age, you know, whether it’s a theatre production that’s recommended 14 plus, but we’ve also had animation workshops and dance workshops and writing workshops and, that have had two, five-year-olds being involved and toddlers. So, I suppose the more people there are, the more diverse views there are, the more diverse creativity there is, and it’s really that diversity that we want to encourage and celebrate.

RM: Were there any key messages that you were trying to get across with this work?

MAG: To me there were two key avenues; one was allowing different communities to be aware of the different avenues to accessing help and support. The other one was, and is still, reducing stigma and raising awareness. Because stigma has definitely been in existence from time immemorial, I would say. And, not just stigma here within the UK, or within Scotland, but globally, and when you have people travelling from other countries, they bring notions with them as well, so whether it’s their own prejudices or stigmas or the prejudice and stigma of the societies that they’ve been growing up in, so, that has definitely been a key issue for our membership, from, yeah, from as far as I can remember. But also, not just stigma in terms of, other people’s views and attitudes but internal stigma. People’s own stigma of themselves and self-blame. There’s a lot of that involved and it’s about breaking down these barriers and supporting people to understand themselves better.

RM: How did you make people aware of the work that you were doing?

MAG: Oh, [pause 23:12] well, I suppose through a lot of the networks that existed already. There’s quite a lot of local collective advocacy groups, across Scotland; there’s certainly 16 that I know of, that are members of Vox, so it was to disseminating the information of what was happening and then encouraging them to do things, potentially locally, and I think that’s, kind of, replicated within the Festival itself where different regions have taken on the Festival and developed it in the way that suits them and they’ve had that, kind of, ownership of and leadership of it. We’ve also had some coverage, in terms of, media and having colleges and universities interested in sending different class years to events and promoting it and even inviting us to come and do workshops and things on their own college campus et cetera. Yeah, there’s been a lot of positive media interests, I would say, in the Festival and I think that’s part of, you know, human nature’s interest in creativity and in art. So, music and things that are fundamental to being human, yeah.

HR: So that was Ros interviewing Mahmud. Now he talks there, that there’s no real age range in terms of demographic of who he was trying to reach. What differences in attitudes do you find when it comes to mental health and age specifically?

WH: I guess, for me, stigma, it cuts through across the lifespan. So there isn’t a period of life free, that there is no stigma in mental health it cuts right across. I think what I would suggest, however, I think issue is with COVID, lots of people are talking much more openly about mental health than perhaps they did. And there’s a lot of data that would suggests that. However what we’re finding is, that again, in the pandemic, it’s had a significant impact on different groups of people. So we know that, for example, women are a particular priority that, you know, with their their mental health has maybe been adversely affected during this older people, children. So I think there’s different circumstances for different groups of people. And what we constantly try and do is look at the data to try and understand what’s happening, what’s the stigma and discrimination look and feel like, and then see what we can do by way of planning activity or intervention that would address that stigma. So I think what we’re seeing and hearing is young people are experiencing more stigma, and I would suggest young people, and that, it seems from some of the data that that the situation at home makes things quite difficult. So the whole, you know, kind of lockdown and everything else young people are describing that they’re reaching out within the family, but perhaps they’re not being taken seriously. They’re issue isn’t and being picked up or responded to, or that they can’t get access to the treatment and support that they require. So, I think that these are factors that then lead to an increase in stigma and people feeling that they’re being treated unfairly. Another area, as well as in older people. And I think we’re seeing a lot of detail about the impact that older people have had in through the pandemic. So again, that in turn has an impact on stigma and people not reaching out for fear that, you know, well, it’s that same some of the services are very busy, so why would they want to see me over and above other people, or the judgment or the shame or the the fear of disclosing there’s something not quite a so I think what I’m highlighting is that what we need to try to do is work out how best to engage different groups of people. And as Mahmud highlights, I think the artist gives an opportunity to do that. I believe, however, that targeting something, and working perhaps through using the arts to really tease out what stigma discrimination looks and feels like for that group of people. And then also being able to share that with others can go a long way to describing during the stigma and discrimination that different groups in our population are feeling and experience and just now.

HR: Yeah, most definitely. Mahmud talks about music, creativity, and art being fundamental to being a human. And sometimes I think that we often sugarcoat things when it comes to mental health, through your work with see me and perhaps through these arts projects, and whatever else there is, do you feel that those things can really kind of hit hard and perhaps reduce that sugarcoating of the subject?

WH: Definitely. I think there’s a space in looking at mental health, some of the arts that looks specifically at the experiences of people who live  with more complex and severe mental illnesses. And I think you’re right, there’s probably a few a mental illnesses that I would suggest the stigma’s still very much an issue. So schizophrenia, personality disorder. So I think, you know, there are certain illnesses that yeah, they attract greater levels of stigma. But what I think we’ve found is that it’s often tackling the misunderstandings around those, the myths around those illnesses. And the more that we can engage, that’s where I think the social contact piece is really important. So in other words words, where people are coming alongside so people who have experiences have living with those illnesses coming in, right alongside, meeting engaging, describing their reality, it can go a long, long way to raising people’s awareness and understanding of the illnesses and the experiences. But more importantly, about showing that recovery is real recovery happens, people can live well, and a lot of the kind of deep myths around, you know, people that all the negative stereotypes that come with them, really challenging that and really bringing that into a space where they can be discussed, and I think the arts do that really, really well. Some fo the great sessions I’ve been to where people have perhaps used poetry, or they’ve told stories, or they’ve shown videos that they’ve made or pottery or whatever it is, wherever the art, the medium that they created they are able to describe that reality. And to let other people know, I think there have been occasions where none and again, sometimes the way the art presented can actually reinforce some of those negatives, stigma or attitudes. And I think it’s really important that the, what we found is if there’s a space for a discussion, and when the you know, the art is being shared or if it’s being shared in fact and you know, to encourage work conversation that in that that can again go some way to reducing that.

HR: Yeah, no. 100% and I love what you say about recovery there. I think it’s like a often seen as a myth that you you can’t recover. I’ve seen it happen. So…

WH: I think the arts allow people to be able to describe the ways in which they can live well with their mental illness that you know, they’re they’re absolutely no different in that respect. And I think through the creative means it really enables people to engage and that in itself helps the recovery doesn’t say that engagement, connectedness of others so…

HR: Yeah, most definitely. We’re gonna move on to Ruth, who was born in 1976 and grew up in East Kilbride started out in youth work and started with the NHS in 2005. After working for a charity setting up a befriending project and has experience of working in a youth center in East Kilbride within arts life music and drama. And young people she worked with there were not doing particularly well in mainstream education. And she later moved to Edinburgh and worked as a museum education facilitator and then moved to Dundee in 2005. She moved into NHS and Positive Mental Attitudes project and they use art and creative tools to challenge attitudes and assumptions about mental health in the community. Let’s just listen to Ruth…

[CLIP] RUTH DONNELLY [Sarah Interviewing]

SD: So, can you tell me a wee bit more about that and just what that job entailed?

RD: Yes, so the initial remit I believe was to work, to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems in Easterhouse in Glasgow, using the arts, so that was the job that I came into, and we, yes, did exactly what it says on the tin, used the arts to kind of engage with people around mental health.  Whether that was about training, so making, you know, making kind of films and videos and plays and things like that, that were educational.  We made a piece of theatre that was about suicide prevention where people could interact with the audience and kind of practice asking people about suicide.  Yes, did arts projects with people that had usually quite severe, severe and enduring mental illnesses, so bringing a lot of their kind of their own stories into that to kind of produce and work through and then, yes, sharing them with a wider audience.  So, there was quite a lot to it.

Then there was different strands to it as well that were about sort of workplace, mental health improvement.  I did a lot of work around schools in a mental health curriculum for schools, but the arts, the arts strand of it was, yes, quite key to it.  Where the project really had picked up, yes, participants, volunteers, however you want to term them, so that was kind of where the community was, was people that, yes, had experienced a stigma really.

SD: How did you target those people, the audience, how did you find them?

RD: Well, to some extent they were already there when I came in, but this was back in the olden days we had things like Links clubs and club houses, and places where people felt, you know, felt safe and felt familiar, yes, that a lot of people naturally went to anyway, so there was this kind of community really of connected, yes, people that lived with, yes, longer term mental illnesses.  So, that, yes, it was quite easy, and then if you did something, you know, we were open to anybody, yes, open to absolutely anybody, so any kind of performance or a bit of poetry, booklet or anything that would come out would tell people how they could join, how they could participate, so there was a bit of that kind of engagement, ongoing engagement with people.  So, there was a nucleus if you like of people that had been around for a while, that had maybe been in that kind of club house, link club type model.

Then the broader wider group of people got something out of arts participation.  I think one of the, yes, you can’t really draw a line between people that have experienced mental health problems and people that haven’t, you know, I can imagine people that haven’t are, I don’t know, one percent of the population or something, some weird, yes, psychological make up.  So, people were attracted to that because they felt lacking in confidence, or because they were lonely, or because, yes, they wanted to create, but yes, all within that, yes, this is a mental health improvement project with kind of mental health as its goals, but you know, some people would come to that because, yes, they got other things out of it or maybe they’d struggled with addiction and felt stigmatised because of that.  Or, yes, they were, yes, bereaved and grieving, or yes, it definitely became a much wider community.  But I do feel that we have lost that, and I personally worked really hard along with others to try and make arts participation accessible for everybody, but it has not really happened.

So, while we kind of, we closed down these kind of structures where people would kind of go during the day and meet people, I don’t think we have made provision in the broader community, so I think we still have people that are going to experience symptoms of mental illness and don’t have those places to go.

HR: Ruth’s work is similar to your own in terms of reducing stigma. And she talks about how she did this in Easterhouse using the arts, which is a working class area of Glasgow and historically linked to crime, gang culture. But within these areas, as Ruth talks about is a real connection within communities. And also, you’ll always find someone that wants to make a change in those communities. And in similar areas where there might be low income, perhaps, or less opportunities for people. How have you seen stigma tackled in those areas?

WH: I think one of the things that really strikes me is we’ve for many years, See Me has had anti stigma champion, such a community champions who’ve come and they’re  involved, they generally volunteer their time. And what they do is they drive forward change in ways that they feel is right. And so that’s one way whereby some people have come to us, where they themselves are activists, they want to see change. And it’s often based on their own experiences. And I think that, certainly through them and some of the funded work that we’ve done with partners and some of just the partnership work that we do with many of our partners and supporters. The critical thing for me is about engaging with the community and that community development way where you’re not opposing a particular way of working, but you’re facilitating a space and an opportunity for people to come together, and to be creative in whatever ways that means for them, and it would be beneficial to them. And I think the other thing that we’ve learned is that if you’ve got people who have experience of mental health problems or mental illness, in and  amongst all of that, that’s the richest environment really, for people to be exchanging their experiences to be talking about their experiences to be evidencing that through whatever that is they’re engage in. And some of the fantastic projects I’ve seen, you know, there might it might be films created in the East End of Glasgow looking at the experiences of teenagers, that that was one particular project I was involved in years ago, actually what they described, they wouldn’t necessarily talk of stigma, but what they described was the inequality that they experience [inaudible]. And you know, just how unfair and unjust that was. And they talked about their mental health and the impact it had on them. And, you know, and I think it’s those types of things where it’s really providing the means for that expression, but in a way that helps them and everybody involved. But the other critical thing I think is the audience for whom these materials are the arts being developed. Because often, it’s not always because sometimes it’s just the benefit of being involved in the arts for yourself, isn’t it and whatever gain that got for you, but then thinking about the audiences, and who is it that you really want to engage, can often direct that piece of work too so, you know, again, that particular youth video footage that was created by the young people was a way of trying to get those who were involved in designing the community and create community based services to bring to the attention what the issues were. So it was quite, you know, it was a way of bringing again, that lived experience to life. But very much from the young people’s perspective, is the power of being empowered to see and express what you need to express. But also about the ways in which you then engage others to try and influence their attitudes, their understanding, and ultimately their behavior. So that, you know, we’re trying to reduce whatever stigma people are experiencing.

HR: Yeah. And that’s where the shame aspect comes in, again, because you want to be able to have that shame diluted so that you feel that you can actually speak loudly or express loudly what what it is that you’re feeling.

WH: Yeah, I think the arts that certainly my experience of some of the mental health and arts projects have been fantastic in reducing some of that shame reassuring people that actually it’s okay that the be shamed, shameful or fearful of having that voice and is  that empowering people, isn’t it to really been able to express what they need to express?

HR: Yeah, no, definitely. And so I’ve had so many conversations now where arts practitioners, volunteers, even this conversation, you know, you name it, have seen how bringing the arts to people who might have a different perception of it has really made a difference and open up communication and confidence. Do you feel that Scotland invests enough in this?

WH: No, there would always be room for more, I think is certainly in terms of I mean, I think there’s certainly a need for us to find new and different ways, creative ways of engaging populations for whom our kind of broader universal approaches, messages, campaigns just aren’t working. So I think what we talked about in terms of some of the more equality or diverse groups reaching and engaging them, we certainly need to invest a lot more in that. And from a stigma point of view about understanding what the particular stigma is, and the complex nature of that and then thinking through what can we do together with that community to take forward action to make that difference. So I think there’s there’s more investment needed in that respect. But I think just generally, I think that we should try to invest in more campaigns that really bring to the fore what lived experience is, and See Me obviously plays a part in that, but I think there certainly could we could do with with more investment in that respect. And I think another area that we really need to and See Me is certainly considering much more fully is to look specifically at the experience of people living with those with complex mental health challenges and mental illnesses, and really paying attention to that going forward. So how do we ensure that irrespective of of your diagnosis, you’re treated fairly, equitably, and you don’t carry that shame, you know, how did we get so we just need to continue to invest in that.

HR: Yeah, what would you like to see happen in the next five to ten years, when it comes to stigma, when it comes to the arts, when it comes to See Me?

WH: Well See Me, it’s interesting, because we’ve laid out a five year plan. So in the next five years, we wanted to really make a difference around that. And against the three aspects to that. So there was something about how to be make sure that everybody can read to get the help that they need, as and when they need it. So that points to our kinda of wider public health message of it’s okay not to be okay, but to call out and get the help that you need. So there was definitely something for me either by continuing that momentum, but at the same time, I think we need to look at targeted approaches. So what we’ve said tin our strategies that are groups of people who are just not engaging in atni stigma work, not engaging and the arts not getting it, and what can we do to really harness and engage them, empower them in ways that would really lead to change for them that it’s the you know, in our case that people are living with mental health problems, that they’re able to be open about that, that they’re able to reach and get the support and that it able to achieve the quality of life that they want and need in their community. So there’s there’s something for me about the targeting of our  interventions. And the other part really, as I said earlier, I think that we’ve come a long way in Scotland in respect of addressing some of the stigma around mental ill health. But I think we both said earlier that that this stigma in certain mental illnesses still exists. And it’s what do we need to do now to really drive that forward. So I guess what I would want to see in the next 5 years is that people with lived experience with that we come together that we really mobilise and energise and really drive forward change in ways that ensure that the can experience any of the services any of the parts of the community or the services they are reaching out to that they get fair experiences, and then through that. And the critical thing for me as we are driving a social movement for change. So this isn’t about a small team of people doing that we do what we can, but actually where change will happen is where other people are joining us in that movement. And I think that’s where things like looking at stigma through mental health and the arts, gives a fantastic opportunity for us to grow that partnership to really work with new people, shift in our audiences, and really developing our approaches and ways there’s right for as many people as possible, and to do so in ways that’s right for them.


Rachel, Mahmud and Ruth all reveal the fantastic steps they have made to not only use the arts as a way to help those with mental illness but also to help reduce stigma and normalise the conversations surrounding mental health and humanise an area that can often feel quite isolating.

Rachel makes a valid point when it comes to her concerns over consistencies in delivery and the use of short-term fixes and it’s clearly vital that these discussions are continued. It’s therefore thanks not only to what she is doing but also Wendy and her organisation SeeMe in making these discussions more visible.

Mahmud echoes a lot of what communities feel in that the arts is fundamental to being human. Wendy cements this with her comments about how  important the arts is for looking at experiences of those living with mental illness but also at more complex illnesses. The stigma may still be an issue but Wendy says this is about often tackling the misunderstandings and myths around these complexities and surely we should use art more widely in this respect?

Ruth’s comments about not drawing a line between those who and haven’t experienced mental health problems is potentially key. Bringing everyone together to reduce stigma, to have greater knowledge and empathy going forward is important and that’s where art can play a big part. And as Wendy says, bringing more people with lived experience in to help drive forward change is paramount and the fantastic opportunity of looking at mental health and stigma through the arts can create a wider social movement for change.


This podcast has been presented, produced and edited by me Halina Rifai  for the Mental Health Foundation with music by Lucy Parnell, the reclaiming our heritage project is funded by a number of donors including an “Our Heritage” grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.