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Mary's Story - Mental Health Awareness Week

Mary Herriot Dunlop has recently attended Reachout With Arts In Mind, not only as a Researcher as part of her Masters at Stirling University, but also as a volunteer and participant in creative workshops. To mark the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 here at Reachout, Mary has shared with us her perspective on her experiences of how we contribute to improved mental wellbeing.

Art as Stress Relief

All of us can be affected by stress in our daily lives and those affected could think that they are suffering alone.

A positive coping strategy by Liz Aitken, artist/commuter was video-recorded for the BBC by Gordon & Brownstone (2008). She creates portraits of her fellow passengers on every journey then gives away her artwork to them. She does this to refrain from picking at her skin and on another level she achieves self-affirmation and contributes to the ‘gift economy’.

Is STRESS resolved by art?

The power of creation through art filters into all walks of life and community. The essence of art in the community encompasses this concept and unifies the participants in their belief of fulfillment.

As a mature student researching for my dissertation, I encountered the world of art as therapy at Reachout with Arts In Mind. All of the staff there enabled my research and the essence of it was transparent and displayed dedication to community service. All were proud of their respective roles within that service and gave clear insights into them.

There is also an identifiable link between ‘Reachout’s’ future focus on 12 -18 year olds and practicing Art & Design teacher, Joanne Mathieson, highlighted the need for this intervention for that age group in her recent interview. This would indicate the necessity for art in the community for this age group.

The ambiance of the environment within the workshops is perfect for creativity and recovery. The manner and demeanour of the community worker emanated down to contribute to this. The community nurse reflected and summed it up perfectly;

”I think there is a huge lack of understanding from the public about mental health and they all have the right to recover. Their born personality can be left behind if an accident occurs.” (Katie Wilson 2018)

It was obvious to the observer that this was a happy place, where people felt comfortable without pressure or expectation; this resulted in a hive of industry and chatter. The transformation that has occurred because of art for these clients has been told by them and retold by the staff for the benefit of this research. Through observation it was noted that participants enjoyed the work and wanted to help one another to maximize on their efforts. Conversely, some feel so comfortable within the informality of art in the community to the degree that they do not want to move on elsewhere.

To witness the power of art changing negatives into positives, for people who indulge in art for the sake of it and not for personal gain. The non-fiscal rewards have proved enormous and lasting. The magic of art was evident and daily there is a testimony to this power that art has over people, like the story of Liz Aitkin, artist and commuter.

My personal outlook from now will be to enjoy art’s magic more, just for it’s own sake and not think why.

Mary Herriot Dunlop BA


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