Saturday 25 July 2015, 06:39 | By Adam Hallows
In the News July 2015 – Be Aware, Be Inspired
In the two months since Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve seen a number of stories about the creative ways people and organisations are working to improve our mental health.
From Shakespeare to caravans, the stories prove that inspiring individuals can use ideas to build networks that provide a fresh perspective and support, to the reported 1 in 4 UK people with mental health problems.
Adult colouring books
At first glance these may seem like a novelty item or at worse a prank being played by a satirical website like The Onion. But looking at the wide selection of beautiful and intricate books on offer and it is clear these are challenging and thought provoking pieces that force us to reimagine the medium, and according to this recent article, be a powerful aid to better mental health.
And if that weren’t enough, the publishing industry around it is booming. The article reports that, “Five of Amazon’s top 10 last week were adult colouring-in books, as were six of Brazil’s top 10 non-fiction list. Last year in France, the combined colouring-in industry sold 3.5m books.”
On their effect, Asma Zergui, an independent colouring book artist and obstetrician, said that: “I’ve just finished my residency in obstetrics and gynaecology and, like all doctors, I was anxious and stressed all the time. I can tell you that the moment I started drawing and colouring, everything seemed different in my life. It definitely helped me get through a severe depression.”
All isn’t yet roses however, as the embarrassment of using them on public transport was raised as minor challenge still to be overcome. Though if the alternative is reading about celebrity mishaps and political mudslinging via the free papers, then we’d definitely be happy to pioneer their use on the early morning commute.
To combat the fear of practicing art in public, poet and comedian John Hegley has just been working with touring art specialists Mental Spaghetti as part of their three week residency in Barking.
Their workshops focus on mindfulness (the official theme for this year’s MHAW), and according to organiser Marie-Louise Plum, a multidisciplinary artist and founder of Mental Spaghetti, their goal is to “…unite marginalised members of society and local communities through creativity, welcoming everyone from the complete novice to the established artist.”
Having begun in Kentish Town, the sessions are open to ‘mental health service users and non-users alike, and cover everything from making fanzines to plaster sculpture and woodcut printing’. Their next residency, in Colchester will take over an empty shop in the town centre, along with local charities and students from the Colchester Institute.
We love the hands-on approach to help people express their personality, while encouraging the random nature of an open door policy. The internet can allow a distance through which to express ourselves, but face to face encouragement to pick up unfamiliar tools and make something beautiful (or colourful at least) has the power to be more long lasting and meaningful. Much like last month’s ‘Graffiti Grandma’s’.
Dementia and art
Novelist Nikki Gerrard has just written a fantastic article about dementia and its representation by the arts.
In it, she looked at efforts to represent the experience of dementia, a condition that is often only spoken about from the perspective of the carer.
“One of the gifts of art is to enable us to enter into other people’s lives and selves – but how is this possible when lives have been dismantled, words fallen away, selves broken and lost?
She looked at efforts by artists, poets, playwrights and actors who have all found ways to articulate something that by its very nature is inexpressible, and in doing so highlights how the ephemeral nature of art makes it a perfect channel through which to do so.
“Dementia thwarts the attempts to describe its internal experience because it is beyond language. Art, however, can try to enter the silent darkness.”
She continued, “We come into life with nothing and gradually we build up the vast, rich world of the self: language and knowledge and relationships and belongings and experience and memory and love. Above all, memory and love. All of these fall away as the life returns to that state of nothing. When we cannot even say “I am”.”
It really is worth a read as it examines what art has done so far to express what happens to the self when dementia takes hold, and the part their loved ones play. Artists looking inward to help those watching from outside.
Very remote working
We often talk of the arts’ ability to do what conventional medicine cannot for mental health, and the recent study on community singing and its positive effect on the mental health and quality of life of older people certainly proves why. But we don’t as often get to talk about nature and the role it can play too.
New research however has suggested that doctors may soon begin prescribing walks in nature as a way to promote well-being, as it has been found to reduce ‘rumination’ – when negative thoughts get stuck on repeat, playing over and over in the mind.
This may explain why one Dutch company are now offering office workers the chance to work even more remotely than ever before.
Workers can work from a forest via a new caravan of mobile micro-offices – fully equipped with Wi-Fi and solar-powered coffeemakers, based in a revolving network of national parks.
With the goal of ‘promoting happier and healthier working’, their founder Tom van de Beek said of the concept, “It’s a very effective remedy to reduce stress or avoid burn-outs. Compared to your typical office, our concept gives you plenty of space, much needed silence, and ultimate freedom.”
Considering the fact 98% of the UK is ‘natural’ then hopefully it won’t be long before we too can start swapping the wallpaper on our PC of an idyllic forest, for the real thing.
As more research comes out around the health and social benefits of the arts, as well as tech innovations revolutionising our lives, then we’ll be sure to share it with you. Don’t miss a thing by following the CSL Twitter feed.