Interview and commentary from Mercè Santos Mir.
Every year #MentalHealthAwareness day steps into the limelight for its annual day of recognition, but has it ever truly left? Mental health awareness is increasingly becoming a daily conversation between friends, family, colleagues and health service providers across the country and abroad – breaking down a little piece of the taboo topic each and every time we discuss anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and all the other conditions that fall under the mental health umbrella.
We caught up with our Exhibitions Curator at the Institute of Mental Health , Mercè Santos Mir, who has worked closely with artists who deal with issues of mental health within their practice, who put theirs and others’ inner-experiences on canvas for all to see, to raise awareness and break down the barriers we face in the introverted dark of battling against a mental health condition.
Not many people know that I’ve been working in collaboration with the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) curating temporary exhibitions since 2014. My first contact with the IMH was after they invited artist Rachel Oxley to show a retrospective of her work. At the time Rachel was finishing her MFA at Nottingham Trent University and I was also finishing my MA in Curation at the same university. I had grown very close to Rachel during our studies while supporting each other through the rollercoaster of emotions that a postgrad can become. We were there for each other, at our best and at our worst. Rachel is a Nottingham based artist who deals with mental health subjects in her work, drawing most of her inspiration from her own experience living with dissociative identity disorder (DID). DID is a complex psychological condition caused by many factors, including severe trauma during early childhood. Due to the nature of my studies and our friendship, Rachel approached me for support while putting on her exhibition at the IMH.
Since then I have worked with artists that use all sorts of media; photography, painting, sculpture, ceramics and many other, in artistic ways to share and explore their experiences with mental health. From conditions as common as depression or anxiety to more complex medical conditions like DID or schizoaffective disorder, I have learned that each of us have our own way to overcome and move forward. I have learned that artistic practices help us channel emotions and thoughts, and that helps a great deal in the process of recovery.
This year’s World Mental Health Day fell on the 10th October. To commemorate this we celebrated the launch of the exhibition The Twisted Rose and Other Lives by artist Andy Farr, which will run until the 1st March 2019. I worked with Andy to curate a thought-provoking exhibition focused on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Post-traumatic stress is more common than we think. Andy claims that his own traumatic experiences were much less severe than those who have suffered abuse or been involved in war conflicts, nevertheless they had a profound impact on his life, leaving his career in marketing research and advertising to become a full-time artist. With help from the IMH Andy has been meeting with other people who have experience post-traumatic stress to create a series of paintings that brings their experiences to life.
Andy says: “My hope with this exhibition is to show what it is like to suffer and recover from mental health problems, to raise awareness and consciousness of the issues surrounding trauma, and to provide positive therapeutic outcomes for those directly involved.”
It’s important to give visibility to artists like Rachel or Andy, and to support the work that organisations like the IMH and many others do in the city, to appreciate the space they provide, because it’s priceless.
While World Mental Health Day is a great opportunity for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy, we should be listening to those voices every day, in order to break down the social stigma around mental health. Let’s make every day World Mental Health Day.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please call the NHS on 111 or visit NHS Every Mind Matters.
This piece has been reposted with consent after first appearing here: