How Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival is helping people “reclaim” their mental health

10 October 2017

Manjot Sumal, Scott Kyle and Adam Buksh in rehearsal for One Mississippi. Photo by Leila Talmadge

The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival is an annual programme of theatre, film, music, comedy and visual art from some of the most exciting artists in Scotland and across the world, spanning over 300 events and 17 areas in Scotland. Opening today, the festival will run until 29 October and is the programme’s 11th year, led by the Mental Health Foundation.

The festival started in 2007 as a small-scale event with the idea of using the arts to reduce stigma and challenge prejudices surrounding mental health. “When it comes to changing people’s minds about something, a really good film, play or piece of music can be far more effective than a poster campaign, because it has a human story that people can relate to,” Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts lead for the Mental Health Foundation, told It’s Nice That. “It’s a community festival at heart and this community is one that now spans across Scotland and the rest of the world.”

Each year the festival chooses a single word as a central theme for artists, activists and community organisations to respond to and engage with. This year, the festival co-ordinators voted for the word “reclaim.” This choice was made to reflect, for example, how people reclaim their place in society after a period of mental ill health. However, it is open for interpretation, with some artists choosing to reclaim spaces or language. It’s Not Over Yet by Emma Jayne Park turns people’s homes into intimate performance venues, whereas two Flint & Pitch shows curated by poet Jenny Lindsay aim to “reclaim this script,” challenging topics like sexist language that can be oppressive or harmful to mental health.

We asked Andrew to detail some of his highlights of the upcoming programme of over 300 events.

A darkly comic political cabaret for our times by theatre-maker Julia Taudevin, partly inspired by the 2016 US election and the 2017 global women’s marches, and written in dialogue with over 100 people.


Hysteria! Jannica Honey

One Mississippi
New and hard-hitting verbatim play that explores how childhood experiences shape men’s adult lives.


One Mississippi

Living with the Lights On
In Mark Lockyer’s hilarious, touching and critically acclaimed solo show, the actor shares the true story of how his life fell apart following an on-stage meltdown during a 1995 RSC production of Romeo and Juliet.


Mark Lockyer in Living With the Lights On

Beyond the Binary
An event run by the National Theatre of Scotland telling the stories of transgender and non-binary people from all over the world. These are fascinating, moving, sometimes harrowing tales, stories about survival, hope, joy and endurance and finding a place to call home.


Beyond the Binary: Jassy Earl

The festival also functions as a year round programme addressing the obstacles that may hinder someone’s recovery or ability to access the correct support and help such as prejudice, discrimination, social inequalities or a lack of understanding by those in power.

Although the exact impact of an arts festival is difficult to quantify, Andrew told us that “the feedback from audiences and participants suggests that it can have a profound impact on people’s lives.” He explained that “everything we do is about providing a platform for people with lived experience of mental ill health, whether it’s telling their stories, showcasing the winners of our annual writing competition, supporting new writers, or reaching out to communities with volunteer and activist-led events all across the country.” The festivals audience now stands at 25,000 attendees each year with research showing that they particularly reach black, asian and minority ethnicities as well as people on low wages – audiences that other arts events often struggle to reach.

1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem every year, and in England, 1 in every 6 people report a common mental health problem – like anxiety and depression – each week. But only 1 in 4 people in the UK reporting mental health difficulties receive ongoing treatment. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in today’s coverage, if you would like to find out more or to donate, please contact Mind or CALM.

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

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