Self-harm, it seems, is one of those topics which even within conversations about mental health is difficult to talk about. Its designation as somewhat taboo territory, and the fact that those experiencing self-harm often go to great lengths to conceal the behaviour, means that it is the subject of misrepresentation, misunderstanding and fear.
In its portrayal in the media or among the general population, self-harm tends to be characterised as either a teen problem, a cry for attention or an attempt to manipulate others into a response, none of which gives an accurate picture of a behaviour that often serves as a way of coping with seemingly overwhelming distress or insurmountable obstacles, at times when no other option offers adequate relief or solace. There is a need therefore to bring self-harm into the open, to develop a language for discussions, free of panic, shame or stigma. This is what makes Out of Harm, an arts project involving young people with experience of self-harm, so important.
Out of Harm was conceived by storyteller Wendy Woolfson and supported by ConFAB, along with photographer Lisa Craig and researcher Josie Vallely. Woolfson’s experience not only as a therapeutic storyteller but also, more recently, as a counsellor for Childline informed the genesis for the project. In the latter role, she explained, at least 50% of her dealings with young people related to the issue of self-harm. In speaking to young people about the issue, it became clear that the adults in their lives felt unprepared and unable to respond appropriately to a disclosure of self harm, just as those living with the issue felt unsure as to how to open up the conversation. Out of Harm goes a long way in beginning to address these barriers.
This collaborative piece of work has evolved over the course of the last few months. It has brought a group of young people together in a series of workshops, where they have worked with the mediums of photography, poetry, filmmaking and traditional folktales, exploring what self harm means to them and examining their uniquely complex life experiences and identities. For those of us fortunate enough to be present, it was an honour to witness the final showcasing of this work.
With great wit, honesty and creativity, the individuals involved shared with us parts of themselves seldom seen and in turn shed light on an issue which has been in the shadows for far too long. Out of Harm helps to illustrate that self-harm is not an alien experience. In fact, it is not even particularly uncommon, merely part of the spectrum of what it often means to be painfully human, to feel hurt and to look for an outlet, a means of expression and a tool for survival. Out of Harm is the start of a conversation – its ultimate aim is to give us a language to say the unsayable, to shine a spotlight into dark corners. The power is in all of us to continue the dialogue.
by Susan McKinstery
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.
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.
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.