Charity leaders in Ipswich explore connection between art and wellbeing on World Mental Health Day
Founders of Inside Out Community explain how the charity’s art workshops help people rebuild their confidence and self-esteem, while organisers behind media project True Thoughts prepare for an exhibition at The Smokehouse called Expressions of Wellbeing
To mark World Mental Health Day, charity leaders in Ipswich have spoken about the healing power of the arts and how people have regained hope in their lives after engaging in creative activities.
In 2003, Peter Watkins, who was a community mental health nurse at the time, and Jan Addison, a drama therapist, launched Inside Out Community.
Mr Watkins said: “We were both very aware of the value of the arts in people’s recovery and wellbeing so we wanted to create something that people could access very easily in the community where they could experience how the arts could work for them.”
The organisation gained charity status in 2010 and Mr Watkins said this was a “big moment” and “felt like validation of our work”.
Inside Out Community now runs a varied programme of creative activities from singing to weaving from its base at Gippeswyk Hall in Ipswich for people struggling with mental health challenges.
As well as open workshops for all, the charity also has a group specifically for 18-to-25-year-olds called Making Your Mark and another for people over the age of 60 called Creative Lives.
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Inside Out Community works with 80-100 people every year and it prides itself on the fact that all sessions are lead by local, professional artists.
Mr Watkins said: “That’s one of the great things - if you come here you get a good quality artistic experience because the people leading them whether they be singers, musicians, sculptures or visual artists are talented artists in their own right so I think that’s been a big thing for us.
“There has been some evidence that the quality of the artistic experience that you get is a determinant of the outcomes you have in terms of recovery and wellbeing. It makes sense but the better the workshop the better the outcome.”
Although everyone who uses the charity’s services will have experienced a psychological difficulty and participants will often talk about their stories with one another, the focus of the sessions is always on the artistic task in hand.
Ms Addison said: “Where people are usually very engaged and very involved that can take them out of their usual thinking about themselves and their problems and how unhappy they might be feeling. It takes them somewhere else.”
She added: “The ability to produce something as well is often very important, to have made something that you didn’t expect to.
“Many people will come in and say they are no good at art or drama then they are astonished with what they have produced and how pleasing it is to them.”
Mr Watkins said: “All arts are a form of emotional expression. That can be releasing and relieving for a lot of people. It can help you make sense of your life and your experiences so often it’s a way of processing things that happen to them that are difficult.
“If someone is going through a bad part of their lives, coming here and creating something which is actually good can feel like a symbol of something good in them.
“It’s also about pleasure. The pleasure of creating something.
“Sometimes the pleasure of living can slip out of one’s life but to come here and be involved in some kind of creative activity whatever that might be generates that sense of pleasure in living, which is so important.”
The two founders said people seemed more confident, relaxed and adopted a different view about themselves and life after working with Inside Out Community.
Ms Addison said one participant had told her the sessions had helped them change their outlook from “hopelessness to hopefulness”.
People can attend sessions with Inside Out Community for as long as they want, which Mr Watkins said was one of the key benefits because NHS treatments such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) would usually be provided over a limited period of time.
He added: “Mental ill health is not like having an infected toe, it can sometimes take a long time to recover and we recognise that.”
The work going on at Inside Out Community is part of an arts and wellbeing movement sweeping the UK, said Mr Watkins, who urged anyone experiencing poor mental health to explore their creative side.
Phoenix Project, a mental health charity, and Ipswich Community Media, have teamed up to launch a creative initiative for people with experiences of mental ill health called True Thoughts, which has been funded by the People’s Health Trust through Health Intend.
As well as producing a regular radio show, participants have also been experimenting with other artistic mediums such as music, poetry, film and digital visuals.
Work created through True Thoughts will be on display during an event at The Smokehouse in Ipswich from 7-10pm tonight called Expressions of Wellbeing, which has been organised to mark World Mental Health Day. It is free to attend and everyone is welcome.
Donna Garrod, project facilitator, said: “It brings people together to be able to create something.
“Sometimes talking about how you feel can be difficult, but you can create something visual when you can’t find the words.
“It’s quite amazing. For some people it might be the first time they have engaged with learning something new for a long time and I think that then helps people to make friends, so they feel less isolated.
“It’s the sharing of a common ground. When you talk to people with similar experiences you don’t feel as isolated in yourself.”
World Mental Health Day takes place on October 10 each year.