The Dust of Everyday Life: a symposium using the arts to smash stigma about mental health
Rebecca Monks chats with Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts lead for the Mental Health Foundation, ahead of their upcoming event
'Making or just experiencing art, sharing stories and songs, is essential for our mental health,' says Andrew Eaton Lewis. He's discussing The Dust of Everyday Life – an annual symposium organised by the Mental Health Foundation and See Me, which he has programmed for the last three years.
The confluence between mental health campaigning and the art world is at the heart of the event, which features open discussions and informative talks on both subjects. Dust, Eaton Lewis says, 'is a meeting of minds between people who work in the arts, and people who work in the health sector.'
This year, the programme is full and varied. Neu! Reekie!'s Kevin Williamson and playwright Lynda Radley will discuss 'Art in a Time of Anxiety'; psychiatrist Dr Akeem Sule and neuroscientist Dr Becky Inkster will present 'Hip Hop Psych' (a discussion about empowering others and removing stigma surrounding mental health and hip hop), singer Adele Bethel and poet Sean Hunt will discuss the impact of Leonard Cohen, and theatre-maker Jenna Watt will be presenting her specially commissioned piece, Helpline.
While the event's main focus is to serve as a symposium for artists and those working in mental health, it also operates as a think tank of sorts for the annual Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, which runs in October. 'It's an opportunity for us to reflect on the festival and how we can develop and improve what we do,' Eaton Lewis says. '[SMHAFF] is a community festival which involves a lot of people – both from the arts and the mental health sectors. This is another opportunity to bring together that community and to expand on it by making new connections.'
Important relationships have been forged at Dust in the past. When director Cora Bissett was there talking about her production of Glasgow Girls, she heard spoken word artist Jenny Lindsay performing her poem, 'Today' – a powerful meditation on the impact of anxiety and depression. Bissett was so struck, that the poem became an important focal point in a piece she directed shortly afterwards. Angie Dight, artistic director of performance company Mischief La-Bas, attended the symposium shortly after the death of her husband, Ian Smith. He had just taken his own life after living with depression. Dight ended up working alongside the organisation on a festival dedicated to his memory, the Festival of Ian Smith.
The connection between the arts and mental health is invaluable in this way, Eaton Lewis believes. 'It's all storytelling,' he says, 'and it's about the kind of stories we tell. Quite often we hear stories about mental illness that are stigmatising and therefore not helpful. That can be damaging. We as an organisation want to try and tell better stories – stories that humanise people and don't stigmatise.'
Dust is about exactly that: communicating honestly and thoughtfully, and using the arts to break down barriers to open discussion on mental health. As Eaton Lewis says, 'In terms of talking about mental health, in terms of campaigning and changing minds, storytelling is really important. Right now it feels like the people with the most compelling stories are the people who are trying to make us fear and distrust each other. We need to come up with better stories than them.'
The Dust of Everyday Life, Thu 20 April, CCA, Glasgow.