A new festival celebrating and exploring mental wealth
In September 2015 hundreds of people gathered in central London to celebrate wellbeing at the inaugural Mental Wealth Festival. Participants enjoyed two jam-packed days of activities exploring good practice and sharing creative skills to promote mental wealth. From its original inception as a small book festival celebrating mental health literature, the festival steadily grew into a showcase for a rich and diverse collection of professionals and experts by experience. Everybody involved shared their own personal stories and experiences sparking debates on topics from young people’s mental health to creativity as a bi-product of mental health.
The festival was unique in its inclusivity, with contributors and attendees encouraged to mix and share ideas without barriers. It was organised and delivered in partnership by Beyond Words, City Lit and The Cathedral Innovations Centre. Baroness Hollins, Chair of Beyond Words, explained: “Over two full days, a diverse range of people engaged with activities and spoke about issues in ways they wouldn’t normally do. The Festival has brought people together across many different sectors and is already leading to new partnerships and renewed commitments to create and support community based initiatives to enable mental wellbeing. Through art, music, film, policy and poetry these conversations will be continued.”
Education, Young People and Mental Wealth
In an inspiring workshop, students from Limpsfield Grange School and writer Vicky Martin discussed their collaboration in writing and publishing ‘M is for Autism’ (Jessica Kingsley Publishers). The book draws on their own lived experiences to produce an honest and moving novel that captures the highs and lows of being different in a world of normal. The girls spoke about how they used their personal experiences to create the character of M, and how they wanted the novel to reach out to other girls on the autistic spectrum.
Later that day saw the Youth and Mental Wealth panel discussion, which included a diverse range of speakers. Dr Carlie Goldsmith, Director of North RTD (Research Training & Development), discussed people over 50 whose mental health problems were not diagnosed or dealt with in childhood, and had lived with the difficulties their whole lives. She talked about the importance of people with mental health issues having some control and influence over the decisions that affect their lives and, in contradiction, how often their voices aren't heard.
Sarah Wild, Headteacher at Limpsfield Grange School, talked about the integral role that education plays for young people with mental health issues and how Limpsfield Grange takes an approach that supports the wellbeing of the girls. The physical environment at the school is sensitive to the girls’ needs and takes account of the special sensory challenges/issues/needs/criteria. Lorna Garner, Chief Executive of Beat (the leading eating disorder charity), talked about the fact that 1 in 30 people may have an eating disorder at some stage in their lives and how 62% of children with an eating disorder present before they are 16. She continued to discuss the huge social and economic costs of eating disorders.
The Festival also included a wide range of events including two parliamentary debates on ‘Access to Mental Health Care’ and ‘Criminal Justice’. Many tangible achievements were made over the two days, through both the forging of new partnerships and the opportunity to influence and gain solid assurance from sector leaders including the Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for Community and Social Care.
The Westminster debates opened with an introduction from Flick Drummond MP, who welcomed a panel to discuss access to mental health. The contributors were led by Alistair Burt MP who chaired discussions with an expert panel and members of the audience. The panel included Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, Baroness Hollins, Chair of Beyond Words, Prof Til Wykes, King’s College London, and Lord Crisp. Mr Burt restated his dedication to continue driving improvements to current policies and assured us he would bring the outcomes of this debate to his party to raise and act upon accordingly.
Across the Festival, audience members shared their stories and experiences in a safe environment and were treated with compassion, respect and sensitivity. Over the two days several Books Beyond Words book clubs took place, involving people with mixed abilities including many Progress students from City Lit.
The closing celebrations went beyond recollecting the event and the focus shifted to future planning as speakers and participants proposed ideas for next year with passion and vision. It is this collaborative effort that sets the festival apart from other mental health conferences.
Mark Malcomson, Principal and CEO, City Lit added: “We’ve long recognised our impact on our students' mental wealth and the part we play in improving their wellbeing – we know students choose our courses for many reasons, in addition to the great education they receive: to meet people, reduce isolation, build confidence and self-esteem as well for fun and for new experiences – it all contributes to better mental wealth. It’s hugely positive that people are now more prepared to discuss mental health openly, whether it’s actors, MP's or CEO's, and we are delighted that the Festival contributed to widening that discussion."