World Mental Health Day (10th October) will be celebrated in more than 100 countries this year, jointly promoted by the United Nations and World Health Organisation, while, on the ground, local organisations from across all sectors and a wide range of backgrounds are working together to raise awareness and challenge stigmas around mental health, and, ultimately, promote wellbeing.
And for our city that means LIVERPOOL MENTAL HEALTH FESTIVAL will return with an array of events that Claire Stevens – Festival Co-Ordinator and Development Manager for Liverpool Mental Health Consortium (LMHC) – promises will be bigger, better and more inclusive than ever before. Having teamed up with a wide range of partners, including The Comedy Trust, We Make Places and Unity Theatre, LMHC have created their most exciting and diverse programme to date.
The only one of its kind in the UK, Liverpool Mental Health Festival is now an established event in Liverpool’s cultural calendar, offering two weeks of events and activities – almost all of which are free – tailored to promote awareness of mental health and to meet the needs of those suffering with conditions. The consortium have run events to promote good mental health and break down the stigma around mental distress to coincide with World Mental Health Day for the past eight years, giving a voice to people who experience mental distress and providing local organisations with a platform to promote their services.
Locally, the statistics around poor mental health are disconcerting. “In Liverpool, one in three appointments with GPs are about things such as depression, anxiety, stress, panic and other mental health problems.” Claire explains. “In fact, 86,000 people in Liverpool experience mental distress of some kind in their lives. However, an estimated 56,000 of these are not currently in touch with support services, and the impact of austerity means there is a double threat to the city’s mental health posed both by cuts to voluntary sector support services and changes to the benefits system.”
The link between austerity, inequality and mental health is clear too. “Mental health has never had a higher profile – it’s great that everyone from the government and the royal family to musicians, sports people and the media are aware of how our emotional wellbeing is affected by all aspects of our lives and how it, in turn, has an impact on everything we do. But it’s ironic that, whilst we’re all being encouraged to speak out and seek support, the people who are most at risk are the first to have their services cut and their support withdrawn.”
It’s clear speaking to Claire that our city has much to gain from peeling back the stigma around mental distress so that we can feel more confident about talking to someone when we’re not feeling at all like ourselves.
“Liverpool Mental Health Consortium and our partners believe that prevention is not only better than ‘cure’ but that it’s cheaper. Not only does it make economic sense to prevent people reaching crisis point, but by encouraging individual and community resilience we can help ourselves, our friends, our families and communities to feel better about ourselves and our capabilities, more engaged in the life of our community, less isolated and more valued. We know that opportunities to be creative, to have our voices heard, to meet new people in a supportive and safe environment, to access useful information and to enjoy ourselves can have a massive impact on our mood.”
It’s often that the acknowledgement that something is not quite right is the most difficult thing to open up about, but LMHF seeks to remove the stigmas and barriers that can make talking about mental health so difficult. “The festival aims to break down barriers by providing a platform for people to get together, to talk, be creative, learn something new and, most importantly, have some fun!”
The festival has been making links with the local music scene for some time now, not least last year when Bill Ryder-Jones was announced as a festival patron. Speaking ahead of this year’s event, Bill articulates that “It’s a pleasure to be involved with Liverpool Mental Health Festival again. Times aren’t getting easier and sometimes it can be hard to find motivation and support. The Festival provides great opportunities to access information, have a good time and be open about our mental health, in a supportive atmosphere.”
Kicking off with a comedy night on Sunday 1st October, this year’s festival programme includes a specially curated Art Exhibition at the Brink, a film night at FACT, Drama in Development, the Lunatic Fringe Poetry Slam, creative workshops, open mic nights, dog-walking, singing, a football tournament, events tailored specifically for Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) communities and the LGBTQ+ community, and lots of activities for young people.
The main public event on Williamson Square on Saturday 7th October will be packed with local acoustic acts and a wide range of performance artists, including Bollywood dancing, before the festival ends on Saturday 14th October with what’s sure to be a spectacular finale at Blackburne House, full of “food, fire and fabulously frenetic drumming.”
This year also sees a new festival patron come on board, this time from the world of stand-up. Danish comedian Sofie Hagen, whose gigs are often tailored specifically to those who suffer with anxiety, is passionate about breaking down the taboos surrounding mental health and allowing people to participate on their own terms.
“We all have stuff going on – and that’s okay” she says. “There are very good reasons for it. But the important thing is to talk about it, to share our stories and to connect with others in whatever ways are easiest for us. For a socially anxious person like me, it’s far easier to stand on stage and talk about the things that I want to communicate than it is to chat in a one-to-one situation. And we all need to find what works for us. That’s why this festival has something for everyone. Comedy, art, film, dance, drama, information, advice, training – opportunities to participate actively and opportunities to come along and watch quietly.”
Liverpool Mental Health Festival takes place at venues across the city from 1st-14th October at various venues across the city. Visit liverpoolmentalhealth.org for more details.