Ways in which art and creativity helps to support people experiencing mental distress

We were delighted to learn the news last week that we had been selected as one of the charities to be recipients of the proceeds from a new charity edition created by Antony Gormley for White Cube. The piece is called Together and presents a series of six silhouetted figures originally created out of a single pool of coffee. Antony wanted the proceeds to go to charities supporting people to cope with the physical, psychological and emotional impact of lockdown. In describing the work he said “These open silhouettes suggest human spaces in space. They touch each other; the touch of others, so important to us, is denied during this time of isolation”.

Further details on the charity edition are available at https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/four-of-the-latest-initiatives-selling-art-for-a-good-cause

This use of art to support our work alongside people who live with mental distress put us in mind of the ways those people use art themselves at times as a coping strategy and to express their feelings. During Mental Health Awareness there were examples of that including peer supporter Julia sharing a coping strategy around breath and drawing while volunteer peer supporter Sophie Nettle wrote poetry.

Eve McDougall is a volunteer peer supporter as well as an artist in a lot of different ways that she willl describe and a long term collaborator with Together. She is someone who also uses art and creativity to express herself and to process mental distress she has experienced. To explain this further Eve was kind enough to write a blog for us explaining this further:

I AM NOT A VICTIM, I AM A SURVIVOR – A blog by Eve McDougall

I am a self-taught artist, author, play writer, director, producer, tutor, singer song writer, sculpture, poet, actress, public speaker.

I work with Together doing various jobs like speaking at events, sitting on panels in the criminal justice sector and am also involved with peer support especially in the arts and I’ve curated many shows for Together service user over the last 12 years. I had my first solo show at Together in 2015, opened by Lady Martha Bruce, the ex-governor of the prison I was incarcerated in when I was 15 years old for a petty crime of trying to steal a roll of bread. Martha inspired me and is a good role model and friend to this day.

I use my art as a healing tool for my mental health. The art kept me sane in some of my darkest hours and was a great escape from my harrowing past. It was a lifesaver that finally brought me around to thinking about a job I might like to do and also about education. Curating exhibitions at Together has been a great experience and insight for me showing the complete management process and meant I could gain more skill in this field. The more I created and used art the more enlightened I felt and it was like a light-switch had turned on.

I found the process had a beginning, a middle and end. That’s something that I felt I hadn’t experienced before, getting to the end of something. My mental health started to turn in a more positive way as a result, showing me a psychological way through my past leaving feelings of balance and peacefulness.

I worked my way through educating myself at City Lit and various organisations for vulnerable people, also doing volunteer jobs with others who’d had similar experiences such as having been homeless, experiencing mental distress and ex-prisoners. I had been an ex-offender myself, having spent 2 years incarcerated in an adult prison for trying to steal food. The effects of being in jail traumatised me and had an escalating effect on my mental health.

Working with Together for over a decade has been the most amazing experience. My manager, who is now the CEO, saw the potential in me and gave me opportunities I never dreamed of which built my confidence, self-esteem and meant I could show who I am. The staff have also been a great support over the years encouraging and helping in many ways and they continue that work in these difficult times. I am more than grateful, it’s a great pleasure to work with Together.

Eve McDougall