Top 5: Ways To Deal With Shitty Mental Health Treatment

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness week, here are some coping strategies for when your GP is less than helpful after you’ve gone to them for mental health treatment. It’s unfortunately not an uncommon experience, and one that can be both frustrating and upsetting, but there are a number of ways in which you can move on from it and get back to concentrating on yourself and your well-being.

Continue reading

The Coincidental Link Between Mental Health and Creativity

Bookshelves and art galleries alike hold works curated by artists known equally for their mental health as well as talent. From Vincent Van Gogh to Virginia Woolf, there is a well-documented relationship between mental illness and creativity. It’s not just historically esteemed artists that display this link: art therapies are increasingly used as part of patients’ care in mental health recovery, or to help survivors of trauma to express their feelings. The power of art – whether that is knitting words together on a page, or splodges of paint across a canvass, and everything in between – can’t be understated. Yet we must also take care in talking about this link: an illness should never be something to covet in the name of artistic improvement. 

Mind, an English and Welsh mental health charity, explains that ‘the aim [of art therapy] isn’t to produce a great work of art, but to use what you create to understand yourself better’. Art therapy is accessible in some areas on the NHS, through charities, or privately. One of these charities is The Hospital Room, who decorate mental health wards with artworks, and run workshops for patients to explore a creative outlet during periods of illness or crisis. The Teapot Trust, a Scottish charity, offers similar programs, but to children with chronic illness. While these children may not be suffering from a diagnosed mental health condition, through art, ill children and their siblings can better understand and express their emotions while dealing with a scary illness or overwhelming emotions.

It’s not just formal art therapy that helps either; illustrator Ruby Elliot, known online as Rubyetc, often posts brief doodles about her life and experiences on social media. She has since garnered a following of over 60,000 fans on Facebook alone; her artwork is not only cathartic, but relatable to others. Her funny and honest scribbles about life with bipolar disorder are a ‘relief’ for Elliot, again suggesting the usefulness of art –in structured therapy, or in the comfort of a private sketchbook – to those struggling. Perhaps the most powerful thing about – formal or otherwise – art therapy is that there’s no right or wrong answer. Like emotions, art cannot be pinned down. Art offers a subjective and non-judgmental space that can be potentially life changing for somebody struggling to understand how they feel.

A 2015 Icelandic study suggests that this link between creativity and mental health can be traced back to our DNA – genetic factors suggest that those in ‘creative’ jobs are 25% more likely to have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia than jobs deemed ‘less creative’. The study also concludes that this is not at all a strong link: it accounts for less than 1% of variation in creative ability. Kari Stefansson, co-author of the study, commented that ‘to be creative, you have to think differently […] and when we are different, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane’. It’s attitudes like this that can be harmful: not all people with mental health problems are artist, and not all artists have mental health problems. Untreated mental illnesses can carry symptoms such as finding no pleasure in things you once enjoyed (depression), difficulty concentrating (bipolar disorder) or disturbed sleep (post-traumatic stress disorder), to name a few, and without allowing for overlap. Without disregarding those who are able, and based only on the descriptions of symptoms, it would seem almost impossible to be creative at the height of a mental health crisis.

For those who seek solace in art on a personal level, I cannot and will not deny the power of it. However, I also believe it’s misguided – and potentially dangerous – to describe those with mental health difficulties as ‘different’, as if that difference carries automatic artistic prowess. While some of artistic greats did suffer from mental illness, it’s not only them. Winston Churchill, a politician, famously described his depression as a ‘black dog’; Princess Diana had an eating disorder. Mental illness does not discriminate. If art can be created from the ashes: brilliant. If art, of good quality or otherwise, helps you through a dark period: fantastic! But we must reflect on how we discuss this link. People will struggle, and people will be creative. If those two groups overlap, then maybe it’s just a coincidence.

[Amy Shimmin]

Artwork by Aimee Parrott, for the women’s lounge at Phoenix Unit – a secure psychiatric rehabilitation unit for people diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Drug Use and Mental Health

Recreational drugs and mental health problems; two things many people have experience with separately, though some together. I am part of the latter group. For the past few years, I’ve been using MDMA, smoking weed, and taking 40mg of Citalopram a day to manage my depression.

Continue reading

Madwomen In Attics

The number of women suffering from mental disorders is quickly rising, yet the funds given to the mental health sector are being cut. The Department of Health reports that in 2014-2015 alone, over a million women were in contact with mental health care and/or learning disability centers, but the overall percentage of people who were then admitted by the said services is decreasing each year. The question is, is the care they are being given appropriate?

Continue reading

Long Read: Interview with Amal Azzudin

Ever since she began campaigning against the deportation of a classmate at the age of 15, local activist Amal Azzudin has been a powerful voice for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.  A graduate of the University of Glasgow, Amal now works for the Mental Health Foundation, specialising in refugee issues. We met up with her to talk about her journey into activism, how the Home Office harms asylum seekers, and what the government and individuals can do to bring about change.  

qmunicate: You’ve been working in community development for some time; what inspired you to first get involved?

Continue reading