Talking Heads

Talking Heads reporter Michael McEwan spoke to representatives from inclusive music company Paragon Music, who are hosting mindfulness drumming workshops as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. They discuss how drumming can help with your mental health and why the organisation's ethos is an ideal fit for the festival.

Features interviews with Charlotte Gibson, Communications Manager & Programme Coordinator at Paragon Music, workshop participant Rory and workshop leader Gameli Tordzro.

The final Mindfulness Drumming workshop at SMHAF 2018 takes place on Tuesday 22 May at 1.30pm at CCA, Glasgow.

On the eve of Mental Health Awareness Week, four short films made for BBC Scotland by Track Record Productions featuring well-known Scots talking about their mental health premiered at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. The In My Mind films explore experiences around anxiety, depression and self harm and how we can approach mental health differently. Talking Heads reporter Suzanne Griffin writes about how they challenge stigma and promote positive messages.

‘If they can do it, I can get on with this.’

Paralympian Samantha Kinghorn perfectly captured the overwhelming feeling from watching the In My Mind short films. These are the stories of four well-known Scots, openly discussing their own experiences of mental health. The words of actor Gavin Mitchell, paralympian Samantha Kinghorn, footballer David Cox and model Misha Hart, ring out with a sense of hope and moving forward. Speaking honestly, each takes us through the ups and downs of anxiety and depression while sharing the techniques they use to care for their daily mental wellbeing.

To start us off, Gavin Mitchell spoke very frankly about how he can feel, stating that sometimes: ‘I can be completely and utterly numb.’ By sharing this, he connects with everyone, as we all have good days and bad days. Although these feelings can be overwhelming, over the years he has developed coping strategies to challenge his negative thoughts. Mental health issues can occur at any point, in any person’s life and be brought on by a number of reasons.

‘Isolated’ is one way Samantha described how she feels at times. This theme of feeling alone is weaved throughout each individual’s story, but, after hearing them speak so sincerely about similar themes, the feeling of togetherness was evermore present. Kinghorn continued to discuss that as an athlete, the pressure to do well and make people proud are common thoughts to occur. Following on, she talked about focusing on the ‘controllables’ - there are many things outwith our control, so we should focus on what is controllable.

Next, we heard from David Cox, who spoke very openly about self-harm and suicide. These are things that affect lots of people but due to the upsetting nature of the topics they can sometimes be avoided in public discussions. Cox’s film was genuine and uplifting, seeing someone so positive and emotionally honest about mental health. The honesty in each film was inspiring, but particularly poignant in David’s film. With each topic discussed in the films, the feeling of not being alone was universal. Promoting conversation about not feeling ashamed, to seek help and remember you are never alone.

The closing film had us end on a note of positive self-love from Misha Hart. She spoke about how she challenges herself, keeps pushing forward but can also admit when she needs a break. When talking about how she opened up to people around her about her mental health, there were only positive words. It was wonderful to see someone so young and influential being honest and direct about their mental health.

A collection of shorts like this is a great example of what we need more of more regularly. Showing that it doesn’t matter what you do professionally, anyone can be affected by mental health. It is very relatable and a positive message about taking care of yourself and opening up to others. This is key to raising mental health awareness and breaking the stigma.

Hearing well-known people say they have felt similar to how you have felt is reassuring. Realising you are not the only one to have felt a certain way or been through a particular problem brings a sense of relief and compassion. The evening ended with hopes that if everyone can be little more honest and understanding, conversations about mental health will no longer be unheard.

by Suzanne Griffin

Suzanne is 25, lives in Glasgow and can make you a good coffee. She enjoys animation, would one day like to hug a panda and is a big supporter of the festival and mental health causes.

Watch the In My Mind films here: 

 Gavin Mitchell

 Misha Hart

 David Cox

 Samantha Kinghorn

Into Film is a UK-wide programme providing young people aged 5 to 19 with a network of extra-curricular film clubs designed to encourage creative learning. As part of the Year of Young People 2018 initiative throughout Scotland, Into Film clubs from across the country have worked together with film practitioner Yasmin Al-Hadithi to create a collaborative film to showcase at the Youth Perspective event.

The piece was devised over the course of two workshops held with pupils aged 12 to 16 from schools in Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Pupils spent their day watching and discussing short films chosen by Yasmin Al-Hadithi – identified mainly from submissions to the festival – some of which were also made by young people on the topic of dealing with mental health issues.

Following the festival’s theme of Beginnings, the participants familiarised themselves with different film techniques in order to construct their project, ranging from the use of green screen to five shot sequences. This saw the young people improvise realistic scenarios within a school setting, with a focus on relationships and the ways in which they can affect you both negatively and positively – with one example being a scenario of a pupil dealing with acute anxiety in the run up to exams.

Additionally, pupils were introduced to two different types of animation – claymation and lightbox animation – and were encouraged to create a type of creature to represent a mental health problem. This was inspired by watching the short film Bulldoze, also screening at Youth Perspective, which uses puppetry to highlight the ways in which mental health can manifest itself. Al-Hadithi found it refreshing to explore this visual interpretation, explaining how the children could express how it might feel to have this type of problem introduced to a scene, concluding with the creature going away.

The event was also dedicated to encouraging participants to talk about mental health and learn how to express their thoughts and feelings through creative means. Discussing the benefits of a project like this, Al-Hadithi emphasised the power of the creative arts, commenting: ‘You could stand there and give them a lecture but it’s not going to have the same impact. If they see it in story form and then discuss it amongst themselves, that is them joining the dots from what they’ve seen through other stories and then relating it back to their own lives.’

This film will resonate with an older audience as they will understand that young people do indeed have a grip on these issues and that we can in fact speak to younger generations in a level-headed, open manner. For a younger audience, the film also has messages about how we can support each other and look after ourselves. By encouraging the participants to create footage to communicate to a wider audience, it keeps them part of the conversation on mental health issues beyond the one-day event – the pupils can feel that they have helped to raise awareness for other people.

by Katie McPeake

Katie is a third-year politics student at the University of Glasgow and Lifestyle Editor for qmunicate magazine. Fluent in English, French and memes, she is a keen cinema goer and is particularly passionate about raising mental health awareness amongst young people. Find her on twitter @katesiuol.


The film produced through this Into Film project premiered at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival on Friday 11 May, in our Youth Perspective event held as part of Year of Young People 2018. You can now watch the film here: 

‘I would’ve loved it if somebody had said: “Hey it’s you today, not the baby. Let’s look at how you’re doing.” That would’ve been amazing.’

Because Skye Loneragan and I both have children at home, we meet on Skype, in the time (as she calls it) between bedtime for the child and putting all the toys away. We are both tired, but I become re-energised just by chatting with her. We spend 45 minutes putting the world to rights, admitting to the answers we don’t have yet, and talking about her one woman show, Though This Be Madness.

Though This Be Madness is a fictional piece derived from Loneragan’s experience of seeing loved ones wrestle with psychosis and schizophrenia. But it also concerns itself with how we all approach staying sane in the wider world. ‘There’s a lot in the show about the whole “consume, consume” thing,’ she says. ‘There’s nothing sane about it! And in terms of my experience as a sleep deprived mother, the real question should be: how does anybody not get depressed when you can’t sleep for more than two hours in a row?’ Loneragan’s own daughter couldn’t sleep lying down for the first six months: she was eventually diagnosed with silent reflux.

Loneragan approached SMHAF with an embryonic idea last year. She explains that it was and is about how Shakespearean characters would be diagnosed today. Through workshopping as part of scratch night Five Ways to Begin during the festival last year, Loneragan decided to use her experience of being a new mum as a vehicle for telling what she describes as ‘a fractured tale, partly told on a Pilates bounce ball.’ The Shakespeare remains. ‘It sort of crept into the show,’ she says, ‘because I recorded myself when I was literally bouncing on this ball – I had to talk to someone, just to feel like I was talking to someone.’

And it’s got a sister character in it, I say – as someone with four sisters that always interests me. Did you look into the complexities of that relationship? ‘Yes,’ she tells me, ‘but I say there’s many sisters in this story, because I want to widen out from “my sister does this, my sister did that.” As women, I feel we could all nurture each other more. If we see people struggling mentally in public and thought of them as our sister or our brother or father, our reactions would be different, I think.’ For Loneragan, distance is twofold. Her sisters live back in Australia, but she talks about ‘trying to reach someone who is nowhere near you in their reality.’ ‘I always thought we’d be together,’ she says, ‘the line that kept coming back to me was “she is a part of me.”’ This resonates, so I make a throwaway joke about how annoying my sisters can be, and we move on.

As part of the tour, Loneragan is holding two performances specifically for parents to attend with their babies. We agree that this is the kind of thing we would have both loved to go to when our kids were little – she calls it ‘a big fat experiment’ but also seems to have a really good idea of how to facilitate the space. It is an attempt, she says, ‘to combine what I’ve scripted, with how I can work in community settings as an artist and respond directly to what happens in the room.’ She is keeping these events deliberately intimate, no more than six or seven parents on bounce balls. I immediately start wondering if anyone has a baby I could borrow.
I ask Loneragan what she feels are the main challenges for creative parents, and one she has identified is time. ‘Once upon a time … I don’t have time!’ she jokes.

Childcare is also an issue close to home for both of us, especially without local family support. Does she struggle with balancing being present for her daughter and making time for herself? ‘I can be present and be “making” but not really making time for myself,’ she says, going on to explain that in the early stages of development she literally rehearsed the piece in her living room with her baby. Fortunately, she benefitted from Creative Scotland funding, which provided five full days of childcare so she could write and make time for rehearsal too – but she is clear this would not have happened if she hadn’t been given that financial assistance.

How will she speak to her own daughter about mental health as she grows up? ‘Perception and language are key,’ she says. ‘I might use words like “different people see things differently and some people aren’t well.” I would definitely speak to her about mindfulness and staying present. When I was eight I had already internalised the silence around my dad’s condition, I knew I wasn’t able to talk to people at school about it. It wouldn’t have been like that if he had had cancer. I guess some people find it too terrible to think about, or incomprehensible to talk about, and just shut it down.’

We’re already over my allotted time so I quickly ask how she thinks we can help primary carers with children to maintain a creative life. ‘Just stay connected,’ she says. ‘I don’t know how to juggle the sleep deprived conundrum, or the financial impossibilities, but communicating honestly – it’s about how we nurture our sanity isn’t it?’

And with that, I leave Loneragan to pick up the toys. She’s given me plenty to think about while I feed the cat and check on my own kids.

by Stella Hervey Birrell

Stella’s first novel, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? explores mental health recovery and was published by Crooked Cat Books in 2016. Shorter works have appeared in various places including The Guardian, and The Dangerous Woman Project. She blogs at #atinylife140, tweets at @atinylife140, Instagrams as Stella_hb and can be found on Facebook.

Though this be Madness will premiere at The Stove, Dumfries on Sat 12 May at 7:30pm, with content from the show performed at 1.30pm for parents with babes in arms. It is also showing at Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh on Sat 19 May at 7:30pm, and Tue 19 May at 10:30am for parents with babes in arms. Booking details can be found here.

Our brain is in constant communication with our body - prompting it left or right, backwards or forwards like a captain navigating a ship. We can steer ourselves in certain directions but when a storm hits, we are powerless to quieten the thunder or lessen the strength of the wind. We can become paralysed and let the days wash over us like a relentless tide, bringing with it debris and mayhem before heading back out dragging every thread of strength from our ailing grip until our hands are rubbed raw and all we can do is let go. Or, we can battle down the hatches, patch up every hole and do the best we can with what we’ve got.

Be it mental or physical, chronic illness is rife with pain. We react to our suffering in so many different ways through an exhausting spectrum of emotions; some that are displayed outwardly like anger and frustration, tumultuous flares set alight to alert others of our inner conflict. Other feelings like grief, fear or shame might swallow us whole, nibbling us piece by piece from the inside out like a systemic infection gradually switching off our lights. There is no right or wrong way to respond, our visceral reactions cannot be predetermined nor reasoned with and our conclusion of a situation is not always choice. Ultimately, we have lost control of a body or mind that we cannot escape.

When you tell someone that you are suffering from an illness like depression perhaps, or anxiety, a common reaction is for them to tell you to ‘keep positive’ or say that things ‘could always be worse,’ sometimes accompanying this with anecdotes of success stories or quotes. Despite their best intentions, it is particularly hard for a non-sufferer to empathise with mental illness. This can further increase a sufferer’s loss of control by emphasising feelings of loneliness and despair. As well as you may succeed in maintaining a positive, can-do attitude, the control you once had over the person you once were is imperceptibly stripped of you, melting away drip by drop as the intensity of your illness escalates.

Scientists work tirelessly to research and explore possible causes and routes of illness, but even the brightest minds can stand feeble against nature and its plight of self-expression and evolution. We are all in the shadow of this lingering threat to our wellbeing; a vastly complex network of correspondence that does not ask questions before taking prisoners. Mental illness is akin to atoms around us, impending and impressible, sparking reactions with infinite consequences triggered by unforeseeable conditions and encounters.

Our recovery can feel confined to a hopeless cycle of small gains and bigger losses; in itself an exhausting existence likely to clip the sails of any healthy person let alone those who have weathered storm after turbulent storm. The times when we most need to assemble strength are when we feel like we don’t even have the energy left to reach the end of the day. Each illness can manifest very differently from person to person, meaning that there cannot always be a conventional course of ‘treatment’ from medical professionals. It is hard to offer a prognosis, causing the light at the end of the tunnel to flicker dimly, extinguishable by the smallest gust of wind. Despite the greatest efforts of doctors, psychiatrists, friends and family, it is ultimately we who must gather up the fragile pieces of ourselves to become whole again, albeit with the odd crack.

Acknowledging complex and painful feelings is the first step in working through them. By quashing and masking them, we allow the illness to strengthen its roots and remain intact. Writing our thoughts enables us to communicate emotions with full disclosure in a safe environment, relieving the destructive pressure of suppressed emotion that can cause further long-term damage. It can also provide a way of informing others, with a clear and vivid picture of the various manifestations of mental illness.

Fortunately, research into mental illness has increased in recent years, and there have been many successful campaigns to highlight its prevalence and to bring it further into mainstream discussion. Unfortunately, though it is 2018, mental illness continues to spread rapidly; it is still misunderstood and a subject that continues to make people very uncomfortable. To avoid feelings of awkwardness and discomfort in others, sufferers are often overprescribed uninformed and tedious advice to look on the brighter side of life. In every other illness, you have a license to wallow, show ‘weakness,’ to ask for help and cry. People will commiserate, comfort, and offer all they can to help. When it is mental illness that you’re suffering from, you can feel forced into keeping a confident and ‘happy’ appearance for the sake of everyone but yourself.

On 9 May, the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival is hosting a workshop called Women Writing For Change at Augustine United Church on George IV Bridge. This is an event for women, writers and non-writers alike, who suffer and have suffered from mental illness, to band together in mutual, even if non-verbalised, support of one another, encouraging self-expression by putting pen to paper. This is an opportunity for women to write the words that we struggle to speak, to lessen the burden of the commotion in our heads by creating something tangible out of the chaos. Sylvia Plath was one of the pioneering women to exhibit and chronicle her own mental illness in her novel The Bell Jar, following in the footsteps of Charlotte Perkins Stetson who wrote the essay The Yellow Wallpaper seventy years earlier. Plath’s work was firstly received with opposition and revulsion by publishers, but in 1982 she was the first person to be awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

“Writing, then, was a substitute for myself…It is also much more: a way of ordering and reordering the chaos of experience.”

Sylvia Plath

Both of these women opened up the discussion around women’s psychological misery, presenting it to society by thrusting it into mainstream literature that mental illness was something that ought to be faced head on and not spoken about in whispers behind closed doors.

Every year, one in every four people in the UK will experience mental health issues. That is one person in every average family stricken with an invisible illness that disengages them from their original self. When suffering from mental illness, including prolonged anguish brought on by physical trauma, the smallest actions in our daily lives can seem unconquerable. When there’s no point in showering because you’ll be going straight back to bed, when its preferable to go hungry than make the effort it takes to eat, when the idea of seeing other people makes you feel physically sick with dread. These are feelings we do not choose; when our bodies are taken over by emotions more powerful than our ability to resist them, we must find a way to take back control - of who we are and who we will become. Our guidance comes primarily from acceptance, self-reflection and an ultimate desire to heal - three ingredients that we all have within us. Explore the things you can achieve and notice success in the smallest of actions, ratify your feelings and let them be known, for there is incredible power in accepting your pain.

by Mimi Dickson

Workshop Women Writing For Change takes place at Augustine United Church, Edinburgh on Wed 9 May at 2pm. Glasgow Women's Library are also hosting a series of events in Renfrewshire exploring women in literature and film: Workshop Story Cafe: Changing Stories (Tue 8 May),  Workshop Story Cafe: New Beginnings (Tue 15 May) and Tips for Girls (Wed 16 May).