Arts supporting mental health

Tuesday 27 June 2017

TALENTED performing arts students from Bedford College have taken centre stage to help change attitudes about mental health, writes Gemma Donaldson.

The play was staged on Wednesday 14 June at Queen’s Park community centre as part of a whole day named ‘Breaking down Barriers in Mental Health - Personal Resilience’. The event was organised by the Diverse Cultures Community Support. It included talks from mental health professionals including consultants, psychiatrists and ELFT’s Associate Director of Social Care, Gail Dearing.

Simian Kaur Khinder of the East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) asked Performing Arts lecturer Ashley Gallagher to brief her students on producing their own play about issues surrounding mental health.

The lead character was played by student Georgia who explained that the main idea behind the play was “the misconception of mental health”. Another student Jack, pointed out that there was a lot of difference of opinion at the beginning of planning for the play:  “In a class of fifteen strong-minded 16-18 year olds it’s quite hard to come up with one idea and for everyone be ok with it”. Despite these problems faced at the beginning of their planning, the students managed to create and illustrate a powerful, moving message to the audience at the centre, and were highly applauded for their piece. 

The aim of the event was to highlight the message that people should not be labelled for their mental health illnesses, that not everyone is the same or should be categorised. Through research it was clear that the students came to realise this when thinking about the creation of their play. Keira, another student who was featured in the play explained:  “We went to the Bedford Wellbeing Centre and we spoke with service users… we found out that it is all very individual, and even though you may have the same illness, your personal experience may be completely different.” 

Sarah McCulloch, Director at provided a short talk on how mental illnesses are stigmatised and viewed negatively in different cultures and ethnicities prior to the students’ performance. 

After their piece she was quite clearly impressed and told students that she would like them to send a recording of the play to her and to other charities, as she thinks it is highly beneficial in getting the right message across.

Bedford College’s Ashley Gallagher said that many of these students will be coming back to the College in September to progress from Level 2 to the Level 3 course. 

“I feel like they have been on a journey of developing a better understanding of themselves and their own mental health and wellbeing and being able to identify with one another on a better level”. 

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ELFT provides mental health services across Bedfordshire and is rated ‘outstanding’ by the CQC.

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