Talking Heads

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:

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.

One Thinks of It All as a Dream Syd

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

 

Me a Belgian, My Mother a Ghanaian screens in partnership with Africa in Motion on Wednesday 2 November from 7pm-8.30pm at the Pearce Institute in Glasgow. Tickets are free and can be reserved here

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.

One aspect of mental ill-health which is all too often overlooked is the responsibility and pressure that is placed on the carer. Headtorch, an innovative group founded by Amy McDonald, have created a performance that helps to combat this lack of consideration. After receiving funding from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Care Information Scotland, Headtorch collaborated with GAMH to create The Guessing Game, an interactive drama that addresses the need to shift focus towards the role of the carer.

The Guessing Game tells the story of wife and mother, Jane, whose mental health issues worsen as the performance continues. Derek, her husband, introduces the play with the statement that: “It could be anyone’s story”, automatically highlighting to the audience that they too could find themselves in either Derek or Jane’s position. It also alludes to the idea that no one’s story is experienced individually, and that although it’s Jane’s mental health that is affected directly, the suffering can affect anyone around her. As the performance continues, we see Derek’s struggle as he tries to navigate through this difficult time.

The piece advocates the importance of a shift from the traditional linear model in our treatment of mental health issues towards, the Triangle of Care. This is a more holistic approach, which creates an interconnection between the service user, professional, and carer. The model is intended to promote safety and a greater support system for all those involved. As the story unravels, we are introduced to the six key concepts of the Triangle of Care:

1. Carer identification - the need to identify the carer and their essential role as early as possible.

2. Carer awareness - staff can engage with and educate the carer on their role.

3. Confidentiality - policy and practice protocols are clearly defined in regards to information sharing.

4. Carer introduction to the staff and service.

5. Carer support services are available.

6. Defined posts/positions responsible for carers are in place.

In adopting this model, the experience of all parties involved can be made easier. Not only can the difficulty of the carer’s work be dramatically reduced, but having a carer who is well-trained and fully aware of how to best look after their loved one can have huge benefits for those suffering from the mental ill-health, and subsequently make the professional’s job a lot easier.

From the onset of the The Guessing Game, we are met with Derek’s cry for help as he watches his wife’s mental state deteriorate. He uses an analogy which describes the situation quite accurately: when you go to the doctor with a broken arm, you are told to rest and give it time to heal, however no such guidance is offered in the situation of his wife’s illness.

Of course, mental illness is often a lot more complex than a broken bone, and no individual experiences issues in the same way, but his cry simply demands for some kind of guidance as to how he can best care for Jane. He states that after having had many jobs: “Being a carer is the hardest job I’ve has ever had.” This seems completely plausible, when a carer’s work involves on average 60 hours of unpaid work a week. Mental health carers can also be negatively impacted by stigma, financial issues, lack of respite, and the subsequent effect on their own mental health.

The Guessing Game also addresses the role of the professional within The Triangle of Care, at one point engaging the audience by allowing them to interrupt the scene and state how they would alter the nurse’s actions. The points of critique offered regarded her treatment of both Jane and Derek. She treated Jane in an extremely clinical manner, with a lack of eye contact or empathy, and what seems to be an attempt to brush her off with the advice to get “employee counselling at work.”

With regard to Derek, the nurse fails to disclose any information about the steps he should take, based solely on “confidentiality”. In this sense, Jane leaves the office with little direction as to the action she needs to take to get better, and the finger is pointed at Derek as the nurse tells him he should “pay her some attention”.

The audience is also given the chance to intersect and get an insight into the internal thoughts of the characters. This is particularly effective as it allows us to see not only what is going through Derek’s head, as his behaviour becomes increasingly aggressive, but also into the doctor’s head, as the time pressure she is under causes her to try to end the meeting swiftly.

One of the main issues in Jane and Derek’s story is the lack of communication, and the play replicates the reality of being torn between doing the “morally correct” thing and obeying the thin lines of confidentiality in the professional world. However, through having the ability to intervene and change the action of the play, we have the chance to alter the outcome of the situation and can see the difference in, for example, a nurse taking the time to talk to and explain the situation to the carer, rather than leaving them completely out of the loop
One audience member noted the harmfulness of the language often used to with regard to mental illness. The power of language can be seen, ranging from the way we, as outsiders, discuss mental health, to the way GPs or professionals treat their patients and those patient’s carers. For example, when trying to confide in a friend, Derek is advised to tell his wife to “pull herself together”. This highlights the stigma and stereotypes surrounding mental health issues that are still so prominent in our culture today.

Towards the end of the play, Derek outlines what seems to be one of the most important messages for anyone involved in the life of someone suffering from mental health issues. He states, regarding the doctor, that: “Morally, they should see I am struggling and offer me help.” This goes back to the idea of the disconnection in the client-patient-carer relationship, and the need for communication and involvement, in order to come up with the best solution to reduce the suffering of all of those involved.

by Taylor Gardner