Talking Heads

It’s not hard to find. A small door in from the main street. I was greeted with a smile. And the chance for a cup of tea. I've been to Flourish House a few times; the staff seem to be friendly and they know me. I sat down at a table with Emma Jayne Park, who curated 5 Ways to Begin…, the event I am here to see. I asked her a few questions:

When did you know what you wanted to do? At what point?

I suppose I knew I wanted to dance when a friend dragged me along to a theatre group. I got interested then and went to train in physiotherapy first. It took me a good five years after I graduated to just try lots of things. I wanted to help other artists with their ideas first.

What is it like working with other artists who are in the same frame of mind as you?

Amazing. Like with anything, finding someone like-minded is brilliant and that’s where an event like tonight’s event is really important. I’ve met some of the artists before, and others I haven’t met at all. And so, it’s been really nice today to see what their approach is and see why they make their work and how they do it and why.

So, was it your main idea to get the folk together?

Yeah. Whenever you’re making performance work, it’s really hard to know how an audience will react. Because you’re so close to it yourself, you can’t judge it objectively. I’ve performed in a lot of scratch nights where I share the work while it’s being made. I find it really useful and it’s something the festival doesn’t do a lot of – artist development – and it’s a way to create opportunities.

How do you find taking part in the festival?

I love it. I absolutely love it. It’s one of the few festivals where you get such a broad range of people. You get people with lived experience with mental health issues. You get people who work in medical centres and people who just know people. Also, people who are interested in the performance. It’s such a broad range of work. My only complaint is that there is so much stuff going on. Sometimes it’s hard you want to see things you want to see. Though that’s a good thing.

What are you going to do now? Will you work with the other artists again?

Hopefully, I’ll keep finding ways to support them. That would be ideal. It’s the plan that if these events work, then they would be doing them regularly as part of the festival. Because it’s great for artists. The thing about knowing people is you can ask them for favours. Whether it’s getting in the studio with them and looking at the work, or when they have made the work, you are able to promote it for them. But I do hope there are ways as the festival keeps growing [it will continue to support] artists and build an audience, and hopefully these events will run again next year.

What do you think of Flourish House as a venue?

We’ve had an amazing day. As a venue, it’s brilliant. Particularly this kind of work because it’s work-in-progress. It’s a comfortable, supportive environment. There is something about being able to come in and do things at a relaxed pace and being able to do things and try things. We came across a box of badges, so we said to Charlotte, one of the workers: “Can we put these out, because they look brilliant?” And she was really happy that we were putting them on show.

I think the work Flourish House do anyway, in being a member’s network, is massively important because it doesn’t feel formal. Like a family. Structured and being safe, where it’s really fluid, and it’s been reflected today in the way we have been able to work.

The big thing for me running this event as well is that, from the beginning to the end, it was about the artists’ mental health as well. Quite often, as an artist, you are thrown into some not very realistic situations, and it is quite high stress. Whereas, today, it’s about the whole thing and about being calm and supportive and encouraging. I would say Flourish House has really supported that…We felt that we’ve had good energy and the freedom to do what we need to do and make sure the work looks good. So far, we’ve had a great day and now we’re just hoping that tonight we can have an audience.

by Stuart Low

In a new take on the concept of the one man show, it is Mark Lockyer himself who comes to tell us that the house is open, there are free tea and biscuits available onstage, and please could we sit near the front, because it works better that way? We’ll understand later.

Living with the Lights On is brave and honest, reflecting Lockyer’s lived experience of, in his words, a circle of mental ill health. To say that we, as an audience, are drawn in from the very beginning is a gross understatement.

Using nothing but a blank stage and his own body, Mark depicts his first meeting with the devil beside the River Avon, then tells in forensic, excruciating detail, the experience of forgetting his lines onstage at the RSC. As events escalate, he catalogues missed second and third chances, wrong turns, and an unravelling that will be familiar to anyone who has suffered in a similar way. Of particular poignancy are the scenes where Mark embodies unsympathetic professionals, and the two times he reports that ‘there weren’t enough beds available on the psychiatric ward’ for him to be kept safe.

The vocal range of the performance is almost orchestral in its range of dynamics, timbres and textures. Lockyer doesn’t need a set any more than he needs a cast – he creates a story rich with scenery and characters using nothing but his own voice and the space around him. It is no surprise to learn that he has been classically trained. The devil’s American accent, characters with Midlands accents, London accents, Greek accents, Irish accents – all are pitch perfect. Lockyer drops us into the middle of conversations and we still know which voice is his and which belongs to someone else, because of the sheer quality of his performance.

In addition, Lockyer becomes each character: morphing into a cast of twenty. His rendition of one person towards the end of the play was breathtaking in its pathos: the room took on a special kind of silence while we watched this tiny, important insight. Others were drawn to comical effect – his study of what a woman looks like when she is flirting is laugh out loud funny and pinpoint accurate.

It was visible to us, sitting in the front row as instructed, that Lockyer was physically exhausted by his performance. It is the sort of play that leaves you speechless and reflective. If you have suffered with similar symptoms, you will realise what people mean when they talk about the importance of seeing your own story reflected back to you. It was an honour to experience this journey in such capable hands, and to realise, with each unfolding, that Lockyer’s recovery is in evidence right in front of us, as he once again owns a stage.

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.

I'm on somewhat shaky ground here. Me and religion mix a little like oil and water. Never the two shall meet, despite being close at times. However, the Augustine United Church on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, is opening its doors to the issue of mental health within spirituality for SMHAF and I'm keen to hear what is being said. 

I attend two events within the space of a week. The first is a drop-in service for those with mental health problems. I speak to a few of those in attendance and it quickly becomes apparent how important the sessions are for everyone here. Cups of tea are poured and stories are shared. I find out that these sessions have been going for some 20 years. That’s a lot of support. A lot of heart. We all watch a film about the drop-in history project which summarises these 20 years. The story is brave and self-effacing. At one point the narrator describes the group as like ‘a chimpanzee pack'. This speaks volumes about the atmosphere here. How there is comedy in what is also deadly serious. 

I am then taken by artist, Lewis Reay to see the new stained glass windows at the front of the church. The work is a triptych based on the theme of reclaim. Reclaim our stories, reclaim our space and reclaim our future. Reclaim our future has a particular resonance for me – how difficult it is to plan for the future when you’re up against a mental illness! I guess the work is saying that a future for those going through these experiences is possible. Just take your time. I leave the drop-in service looking forward to the Space to Be: Sunday Worship a few days later. 

What transpires on Sunday is a service which at its centre is the theme of peace. Again, as with the theme of planning for the future, peace can be elusive when dealing with mental illness. Minister Fiona Bennett describes how we can be peaceful when dealing with difficulty. Peace and difficulty can run side by side. 

The service used song, prayer, readings, interview, mindfulness and meditation to highlight how we might all find peace in difficult times. I leave the Augustine United Church feeling inspired and hopeful for the future. 

by David Lamond 

Having recovered, to a certain extent, from years of ill health, David is now studying at Fife College. David hopes to reclaim more of his identity by attending the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival and writing down his experiences.


Space To Be: Cafe  continues in Edinburgh on Thu 19 Oct & 26 Oct.


“A story needs a beginning, middle and an end. Though not necessarily in that order.” Jean-Luc Godard’s quote presented itself in my mind as the speakers of the inaugural Real Talk x Write To Recovery event told their stories of lived mental health experience. Their steadiness in relating their experiences and acceptance of what they had learned was remarkable to behold, making the usually grand CCA Theatre a cosy cabaret space. Fairy lights turn each table into a campfire, hot tea is on tap throughout and the speakers are welcome to sit or stand as they tell their stories. In between each story is a minute or so of planned silence. The group collectively settles into what is not an awkward lack but a considered peace, relaxing into the safe and soothing atmosphere to share stories and learn by listening to others. 

Real Talk is the brainchild of Lily Asch, who was struck by how applying storytelling techniques to her lived experience of mental health aided her recovery. “Real Talk is all about promoting conversation, connection and compassion around experiences of mental illness. I came up with the idea of holding safe spaces for people to share their stories with an audience, but I didn't want it to be an unsupported experience. So, I hired a professional storyteller to host two workshops with speakers beforehand so they would feel comfortable and prepared.” 

Each of these workshops last about two and a half hours, utilising storytelling techniques such as storyboarding and guided meditation. Write to Recovery also hosts many programmes and workshops throughout Scotland, placing the focus more on creative writing than oral storytelling, but the overlap between the two projects is clear and harmonious. This is the first collaboration between Real Talk and Write to Recovery, represented on the night by facilitators Emma and Erin, but they plan to do much more in the future. 

“Writing is such a useful tool in recovery,” says Lily. “It gives you space to ideate and to express without judgement or interjection. It helps connect dots and lends perspective. Creativity is a wonderful way to connect into yourself.” But Lily is under no illusion that this is a one-size-fits-all, miracle cure. “Recovery is a continuum. What works at one point doesn't necessarily work at another time and what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. But I think sharing those thoughts with others can be a really helpful step. Participation is always voluntary, so if at any point in the process you don't want to continue, we completely respect and honour it.” 

Each speaker is composed in telling their stories, which detail some sensitive and upsetting issues, in such a way that can only inspire awe in every audience member, especially considering how far they’ve come after just a couple of workshops. Even the term audience member feels like a misnomer here, as there’s so little divide between us all, a bond readily but steadily fashioned, that the traditional ideas of a silent, passive audience fall away. This is a conversation where everyone is welcome. 

On my discussion table, we can’t stop once we’ve got started, thanks to the facilitation by Lily, Erin and Emma, as well as Rebecca, one of the speakers. I find myself laughing in recognition of how many common threads our various symptoms and behaviours have. I speak to a woman who hasn’t had experience of mental health difficulties herself, but has through her partner and friends, and wants to learn more and better help them. It can be difficult to identify an end to a particular difficult time or mental health episode but the techniques of storytelling, to frame experiences within the structure of a beginning, middle and an end, allows each storyteller to file that story amongst the many in the anthology of their lives. A few stories finish on an open-ended note but arrive at a place of understanding and awareness that seems to be the most robust coping mechanism for going forward in life. 

By the end of the evening, even I cast the last shreds of journalistic objectivity to the wind and join in with the writing exercise, a quick-fire round to share thoughts on the theme of ‘courage’. We can mind map, doodle, try a poem or short testimony. Sharing what we have after only six minutes, the group comes to a consensus that courageous acts rarely make you think you have courage - but then that’s the point. To feel the fear and do it anyway. You never know who you might help by sharing your vulnerability. 

by Emily Benita 

Emily Benita is a writer and performer who lives in Glasgow with her cat called Malcolm Tucker. She manages her depression and anxiety through a combination of medication, counselling and art, liberally applied. Tweets at @BenitaEmily.


Break Every Chain: Breaking Chains Through Art!, Art Building Bridges and Moving Forward are three art collections displayed as part of Out of Sight, Out of Mind, a collaborative exhibition spread across Edinburgh. Drawing inspiration from within themselves, professional and self-taught artists with past or current experience of mental ill health reveal the power of art to raise awareness, fight preconceptions and move forward. 

Walking along the corridors and talking to the volunteers, you start realising that no matter whether or not you have experienced mental health problems, we all share the same struggles, whether it is fear of dentists or social anxiety. Once fully immersed with the art, it is not difficult to see the beauty and the emotions caught in each painting, drawing and installation. The idea of art as a way of representing feelings and fighting stigma finds expression in Oto Kano’s work displayed in Summerhall. 

It shows us that depression can also be beautiful if only we could overcome what feels like an inborn urge to simultaneously look at or run away from sadness. Exploring her ‘semi-blind’ drawings of faces and dark paintings of tsunamis and stormy waters, one really starts getting a feel of how excruciating living with alternating depressive and manic episodes must be. At the same time, a closer look makes the edgy black contours of the faces milder, the eyes warmer and the golden splashes sitting on the top of the black, turbulent waves more prominent. 

Two bright and spacious rooms at the end of a corridor, hidden in the basement of Summerhall, host Moving Forward and Art Building Bridges. These are two collections of work created by members of Contact Point Art Group and TollX Art Group, respectively, that show how art groups can have a positive impact on mental health by creating social circles in which everybody can find a safe space to relax, focus and express themselves. Sketching electric circuits with open ends, drawing boxes, interlaced with spheres and matryoshki, cracked by heavy labels around their necks becomes a way of exploring the conscious and subconscious, of identifying the real struggles, accepting the imperfections and moving forward. 

Break Every Chain: Breaking Chains Through Art!, an exhibition held in Argyle House, displays paintings by Margaret Ramsay. Walking into the room, a massive painting catches the eye – an eagle in the sky symbolising the broken chains and achieved freedom and empowerment. Margaret’s works tell a personal story of how art could be part of a healing process, acting as a vent for accumulated feelings, freeing the imagination. 

Composed of paintings, drawings, collages and sculptures from modelling clay, these three exhibitions show us how art can help every one of us acknowledge their struggles, identify the roots, accept the imperfections and in this way release themselves from the chains that hold them, achieving tranquillity and gaining confidence. But it could also build bridges through creating a safe space for expressing emotions, sharing experiences and stories of recovery. 

by Katerina Gospodinova 

Katerina is a final year PhD student in molecular psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh. She believes that art and science can work hand in hand to raise awareness and fight the preconceptions surrounding mental illness. Follow her on Twitter at @KaterinaGospodi.


Out of Sight, Out of Mind continues at Summerhall until Sun 29 Oct, and venues across Edinburgh. There is no need to book.