New arts group tackles stigma of mental illness

Wendy Ward and Jennifer Britain at The Maltings for a Thereputic Arts Class.
Wendy Ward and Jennifer Britain at The Maltings for a Thereputic Arts Class.

dealing with a mental illness can’t be an easy thing and members of a recently established Chirnside organisation are getting creative in a bid to try and get people to understand more about their conditions and how they affect their day to day lives.

Born from Think Make Grow, a collective that has its base at The Maltings Theatre in Berwick, Chirnside Therapeutic Arts Group started up in September and will formally become an independent organisation on January 1.

And members have been given an early boost to the tune of £2,800 from See Me, Scotland’s national campaign to end stigma and discrimination around mental ill-health.

The Arts Group is led by Wendy Ward who said mental illness is still something of a taboo subject for many people as they don’t understand enough about it.

She told ‘The Berwickshire News’: “There is a lot of stigma attached to mental illness, even now. It might not be immediately obvious that some one is suffering from a mental illness; it is an invisible disability that people often get vilified for.

“The public need to understand that it’s just like having another disability; it takes over your life and you can’t get on with things in a normal way. There isn’t a lot of awareness anywhere in society about mental illness and many don’t understand the impact.

But this is despite the fact that something like one in four people suffer from one.”

Wendy, who suffers from a mentai illness herself, said that for discrimination against them to be completely wiped out it would probably need a few well known faces in a position to influence public opinion to speak out.

And she added that days comes it was down to organisations like the Therapeutic Arts Group to try and raise awareness and gain some better public understanding at a local level.

“We got the grant from See Me specifically to put together an anthology of our work. We were delighted to get the money and I really hope that by having the anthology in public places around the area, for example doctors surgeries, hospitals and dentist waiting rooms, we can raise awareness about mental illness and challenge any pre-conceived ideas people may have.

“We’re still a very long way from there being a wide spread acceptance of mental illness as a genuine condition and I think until someone in a powerful public position who has suffered or is suffering from a mentai illness, speaks about their experiences, there will always be some discrimination.

“The anthology will include a selection of photography; visual art and written pieces. Some people have used the anthology as a way of focussing on the good things in their life while others have really tackled the issue head on and tried to express what living with a mentai illness is like for them.

“Some members were a little wary of going into too much detail and when it comes to publishing it it’s likely that some will want to remain anonymous.”

The Therapeutic Arts Group currently boasts seven members but Wendy is hoping that the anthology becoming widely available throughout the area might persuade a few more people to share their experiences with others going through the same thing.

“There is no criteria for people to join the group; they don’t have to have had a formal diagnosis.

Getting creative is a great way for people to either address their illness or focus their minds on something in. Members have said they can go into one of our sessions feeling very down but come out feeling very positive.”

Chirnside Therapeutic Arts Group are currently on a break for Christmas but every Monday, starting from January 9, they will meet at The Maltings from 1-2.30pm. All sessions are free and anyone interesting in joining or finding out more should ring 07732406894.