Behind the mask: an event which proves the importance of conversations about mental health

Blogger Louise Johnstone reflects on Heart Tay Heart, Dundee’s first Mental Health Awareness Week, which she organised

Wow, what a week it has been! We have just finished the very first Dundee Mental Health Awareness Week – Heart Tay Heart. It has been a whirlwind leading up to and through the week.

This started as an idea that didn’t seem feasible; I thought this was just another one of my silly ideas that I could never pull off, yep – even I have huge doubts at times. However, I also know once I commit to something I will make sure it happens as best I can and, with a lot of support, belief and drive, it came to fruition.

The initial idea was always based around the creation of a mask exhibition. I had a vision and an idea of what I wanted this to look like, what this represented. Rosie Summerton from Art Angel, responsible for the exhibition installation (above), captured this brilliantly.

The ‘Many Faces of Mental Health in Dundee’ exhibition allowed many to highlight their emotions, their feelings, it allowed people to own their mental health, in an incredibly powerful demonstration of mental health at Slessor Gardens.

For many with mental health challenges and even in everyday life, we all wear a mask for the people in our lives. This could be family, friends, work colleagues, the world around you; this is just as it is for many with mental health challenges, we wear a mask because…we often do not know what kind of response we are going to receive.

How much is okay to say? Which words are okay to use? What parts are acceptable to talk about? These are just a few of the questions we face. But on the face of it all, we all want to be accepted.

A variety of people contributed to the exhibition, including children from schools in Angus, adults from across Dundee including individuals and those part of organisations, all the way to those residing in some local authority care homes.

Louise (left) at the event opening

The week itself has focused on a diverse range of strategies that may be used to help manage mental health and wellbeing: the idea being that we do not need to be ‘mentally ill’ to look after our mental health, but wish to have positive and healthy mental health.

There were a number of wide-ranging activities, from information-sharing to practical activities. It was important to recognise that different people utilise different strategies and at different times.

An example of these include walking (Ramblers Scotland are hosting the Heart Tay Heart walk on their ‘Medal Routes’ app), while Cycling Scotland and other locally-based cycling providers have been collaborating with local mental health charities to run fun sessions.

Dichty Connect and Greenbuds encourage individuals to get outdoors, get in the fresh air, have a positive impact on the local environment and engage with nature. We know how much better we feel when we get outdoors.

Dundee Rep Theatre have also captured a light-hearted and fun way to utilise drama as a management tool but with important underlying reasons, reduce isolation and create connections.

SeeMe Shorts are four short documentaries which highlighted the personal journeys of people directly impacted by mental health conditions including borderline personality disorder, hoarding disorder, PTSD and social anxiety. These short films were so powerful in their depiction of each individual’s experiences, but also in the awareness of those around them.

Abertay University, whose courses educate future mental health nurses, ran a series of workshops for the wider public including ‘Dementia Awareness’ and ‘Suicide Awareness’. In addition, numerous activities ran throughout the week for members of staff and support for students undergoing exams.

This is a very small indication of what has been contributed to the week from local charities, organisations and businesses. Inter-agency working is crucial to help move the conversation forward when it comes to mental health.

There have been many key points during the week, but one common theme that sticks in my mind? Conversation, talking with others, be that friends, families, professionals, work colleagues. To be able to have that open conversation without the fear of stigma or judgment but truly being listened to.

I have been honoured to listen to so many stories over the course of the week about people’s own experiences or in fact their experiences through others and their interpretation of this.

This year’s event may have drawn to a close, but only with a view on how we can expand the conversation further in 2018 in Dundee.

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