Mental health and the arts.

Adult colouring books. Is there anything that makes you want to implode more? Art therapy appears to be becoming that little more mainstream. Which is nice, I guess, but for those of us battling real mental health concerns it can look a little…Insulting?

credits - the feminist

Mental health can be a sensitive subject, fortunately our society is further attempting (and in many cases succeeding) to consider our behaviour towards the stigma. Campaigning for the rights of people with mental health issues and educating those who may not be familiar with an illness like depression, schizophrenia, etc. An illness that in many ways is invisible can be tough to explain to people with no such experience at all.

Van Gogh’s - The Starry Night

Mental health and creativity is no big secret. We live in a world filled with artists, painters, writers, poets, etc who are living with such conditions every day. It’s not like it’s recent either, look at Vincent Van Gogh. Possibly the most famous and openly spoken about case of an artist who had to deal with a very manic depression (often referred to as bipolar disorder). The thing with such a revelation is that people can wrongly assume mental health means self harm. In my last post I actually made a joke about Van Gogh cutting off his ear - my way of dealing with depression and explaining it to others - a dark sense of mischief I’m afraid. In this post we’ll look at Glasgow’s own art scene and its inclusion of mental health.

When I worked as a support practitioner I had a look at art classes for those with mental health issues. I found Project Ability. []. Project Ability at the Trongate focuses on the use of the ‘arts in contribute to mental ill health recovery and emotional health and well-being.’ They currently run a project called ReConnect a programme of visual art classes for adults with mental health issues. The decision to chose visual arts is a positive one, I find, as visual art allows us to be as creative as possible. It encourages us to express ourselves in the freedom of the medium. At whatever stage of our depression we can allow ourselves to not just talk about how we feel, because hey maybe we don’t want to talk about it today, but we can show how we feel in our own way. As an individual who has experienced depression in its many kooky, soul rendering and plain arsehole-ish forms, I’ve often been surprised at the difference in my art depending on how I’m maintaining my own well-being. Project Ability at the Trongate begins again on January 16th and are currently looking for volunteers. More details on the website.

Glasgow is also the centre of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. One of the largest festivals dedicated to mental health, SMHAFF spends the month of October staging hundreds of performances, classes, plays, etc across Scotland. The project says that it ‘aims to support the arts and challenge preconceived ideas about mental health.’ Partnered with NHS Scotland as well as the Scottish Government and various other councils and projects, the festival appears to be looking to confront our misconceptions - our fears - about the issue of mental health stigma. As well as the staged performances, from film to literature, there are walking tours which look to raise awareness of the ‘Black Dog’. There are also classes for those of various backgrounds and lifestyles. Mainly though the festival looks to bring us together and say ‘let’s talk about it’ which I think is refreshing and long may it continue.

Projects and festivals aside I feel we should be more open to creativity and encouraging that as a form of relaxation, if not therapy, to those dealing with mental health issues. We’re fortunate to live in a city whose attitudes to supporting mental health charities is one of the greatest in the UK. Yet, we still have some way to go. These projects can only fund for so many individuals and cuts are looming throughout the social care sector.

Let’s not leave this post on a low though. Perhaps you could search for yourself, perhaps you know someone with depression or maybe you yourself are dealing with your own Black Dog. It’s too easy to say ‘Why don’t you paint, why don’t you write..’ Do anything. Do it your way. If not today then there’s always tomorrow, right? Of course there is.

For more details or if you’d like to talk about your own experiences please feel free to contact me on


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