From There To Here

27 Aug 2012 in Highland, Showcase, Visual Arts & Crafts

Jenny McBain looks at a project aimed at breaking barriers and building bridges in mental health.

AN uneasy mix of compassion and control governs the relationship between mental health professionals and their patients. So could an arts event involving representatives from each group help to kindle new found empathy and understanding?

THIS was the question posed by HUG – a network of people who campaign for a better life for people in the Highlands with mental health problems. ‘From There to Here’ was a day long event during which a group of participants based in Inverness met up on a houseboat for a storytelling and art workshop. At the same time, a similar group of professionals and people with mental health diagnosis set out from Fort William, stopping en route to meditate poetically on the day’s themes.

Workshop participants

Workshop participants

In the afternoon the two groups came together and took a boat trip through a series of canal locks, out into the Beauly Firth. Going through the locks had symbolic significance; an acknowledgement that barriers have to be overcome in an attempt to cultivate new ways of communicating. And when one individual sometimes has occasion to physically keep another under lock and key, the stakes are high.

Student nurse Fraser Ross said, “I really enjoyed myself today. I see a key part of my nursing role as holding out the hope of recovery for people. In order to do that I have to be able to mix with people who have been mentally ill but are doing well. And I have witnessed first hand on the wards, how important the arts can be for people. I had one patient who was continually tormented by voices in his head but found that the voices completely disappeared when he made music”

Story teller Ian Stephen took one Inverness session, during which he related the traditional tale, ‘The Wise Grieve’. Afterwards, artist Christine Morrison urged the group to respond to the story by making pastel marks on paper with their eyes closed. She said, “When people can’t see they are under no pressure to compare their work with others and the results are always surprising.”

Christine Morrison

Christine Morrison

Poet John Glenday and poet and speech and language therapist Maggie Wallis encouraged the other group to express themselves with words. Some of these were texted to Inverness.

One read, “a bridge is the space between you and me… the width of a breath, the width of a universe”

Another said, “Waterlight plays freely on steel gates tickling them until their mouths open wide and water spills out, a roar, a cackle of sound”

As with all inaugural events there is room for improvement. Some who had reserved places failed to turn up, leaving the numbers an little short. It would also be good to encourage more senior health professionals to take part. Student nurses were well represented having been quick to seize upon the opportunity and making bookings early but there were no staff nurses, ward managers, doctors or social workers.

Ian Stephen

Ian Stephen

However the day was undoubtedly successful in taking a first step towards drawing a new template for using the arts to humanise medicine. HUG is a very influential pressure group, much respected within the UK by organisations like the Royal College of Psychiatrists and also internationally. So where they lead others tend to follow. What then, will HUG do next?

HUG manager Graham Morgan said, “We would like to do similar events and the canal meeting has already led to ideas for artwork and writing on a similar theme over the next few weeks”

The results of these endeavours will be showcased on the HUG website and will also be exhibited in Ullapool, Inverness and Fort William.

© Jenny McBain, 2012