I wrote some notes for my talk at the Love Arts event yesterday and although I didn’t read this verbatim it’s the basis of what I said:
My attitude is that everyone has mental health just like physical health and that can be in good shape or not at any given time. We are living in times of collective trauma due to the Covid-19 pandemic and this is known to have significant impact on the global population, with people already at risk of mental illness due to various socio-economic factors in a much more vulnerable position. The Covid Social Study results show clearly that suicide rates are up as a direct impact of the pandemic and lockdown. https://www.covidsocialstudy.org/results Artists have been one of the disproportionately unsupported groups of practitioners by this government, whilst simultaneously working tirelessly to support communities, each other and themselves.
In a recent Doctors Without Borders webinar on mental health, Sanne Kaelen spoke of the moral dilemma of quantity and quality of life. “We neglected the mental health of the public at the start of the pandemic preserving life but now we must protect the physical and mental health of people. We are in a mental health pandemic.”
We are in a mental health pandemic. We are seeing mental illness and suicide rates go up https://www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/research-policy/understanding-our-callers-during-covid-19-pandemic/what-do-we-know-about-coronavirus-and-suicide-risk/
The already underfunded and under-resourced mental health support services in the UK, who were already under extreme pressure with long waiting lists, are now in precarious situation with the most vulnerable at greater risk. Social prescribing was growing increasing support and evidence pre-covid and as part of a holistic, early intervention and person-centre approach, this is where I advocate the arts can have a huge value in health outcome in a mental health pandemic.
As an artist I find my making practice is fundamental to my mental wellbeing and over lockdown I did lots of drawing and writing as part of my own coping strategy. Sharing practice is also important to me and peer support is something I value greatly and will talk about shortly. As a curator I co-run an arts publication reflecting on mental well-being, Dwell Time Press, which platforms and supports artists and the community through publications, workshops, podcasts and interviews. I’m also on the board of the Yorkshire Visual Arts Network and I also sit on the Equality & Diversity Working Group which strategically and operationally affects positive change in equality, diversity and wellbeing in the visual arts sector regionally. We know that in these precarious and vulnerable times that care and especially self-care are paramount and YVAN is currently involved in a reading group on radical care facilitated by Sarah Smizz which is open to anyone interested. [email protected]
So to talk about specific projects I run:
Art Lab: is Artists’ Presentations & Critical Dialogue, First Monday evening of the month at 8pm. It’s a monthly meet-up for artists and art practitioners to discuss their work, concurrent ideas and critical thinking. It’s open to anyone who would like to attend and contribute constructively. The format is two presentations by artists / practitioners about their work / ideas / interests: 20-30 minute presentations followed by Q&A. We welcome all art practitioners at any stage in their career and operates a safe space policy. I record the sessions via zoom and upload them to the facebook group for people who cannot make the live session too. If anyone would like to present just let me know. The next session is actually on a Tuesday as I triple booked myself: Tuesday 3 November 8pm via zoom.
Dwell Time: is arts publication reflecting on mental wellbeing which I co-founded and co-run with Vanessa Haley and Lenny Szrama. Vanessa and I’s close friend died by suicide in 2017 and prompted our instigation of this artist-run project which has so far produced two editions of our publication, a railway arts trail, interviews and now an open call for the third. We are currently recording podcasts as a partnership with YVAN which stemmed from my writer in residence on the publication Resilience is Futile.
Covid open call: https://dwelltimepress.wordpress.com/c19-edition/
YVAN collaboration podcasts: https://corridor8.co.uk/publications/resilience-is-futile/
I also want to mention that YVAN has a regular recruitment to the board and working groups, every 6 months , and anyone wanting to get involved please do get in touch with YVAN for more information. http://www.yvan.org.uk/
So I’ve talked a lot and I’ve talked about talking a lot as it’s a key research area of mine interconnected with mental health. I feel talking is critical and fundamental to navigating mental health and art practice. We’re social creatures and the very thing persistently restricted to us is socialising… and this is a core problem of the mental health pandemic.
So many colleagues and friends are struggling with processing thoughts and emotions into speech, and me too. What we’ve been through and going through is huge. We’re experiencing collective trauma of a pandemic on top of individual traumas. Paraphrased from the book The Body Keeps The Score: “When our executive brain function is compromised through a trauma response, the speech part of our brain (Broca’s area) shuts down in part or fully as we go into flight, flight or freeze (survival) mode. Hence the terms ‘speechless’ and ‘lost for words’.” This is where the arts are so important in processing trauma.
Just on a bit of empirical research I’m doing via social media, artists are often psychologically surviving by making practices such as drawing, painting and cooking that may not be their core practice or practice pre-covid. Making may not even be that fundamental in individual coping strategies and there is also the risk of comparing ourselves to each other how well we are continuing practice in some form and coping in general. I think that neo-capitalist production-orientated measures are redundant. For me it’s about being as happy as well can be right now and that is of course very individual and in-the-moment.
So to end on a question to everyone: How are we individually and collectively surviving right now?