There are hundreds of reasons why we find it difficult to ask for help, from pride that we don’t need it and can do things on our own, to embarrassment or fear or rejection. When it comes to metal illness and the taboos that still very much exist around talking about it, the barriers to asking for help are even more pronounced.
However, I was still shocked when I read the statistics about how many people who are struggling with their mental health don’t ask for help. A YouGov survey revealed that only 28% of men and 19% of women who have had mental health problems admitted that they had not sought medical help. Furthermore, more than a third of men and a quarter of women, either waited more than two years or chose never to tell friends or family about their problem.
So, as my colleague Viki Browne and I were planning the launch of our new mental health and performance arts charity Many Minds, we decided we wanted to do something to address this.
Firstly WE asked for help. We asked friends, loved ones, people we had worked with, our members and everyone we could contact via Facebook! We were overwhelmed with the response of people offering to help. People we hadn’t seen for ages and people we didn’t even now came out of the woodwork to get involved.
A team of us took to the Galleries shopping centre on Blue Monday, deemed the Most Depressing Day of the Year, dressed in silver sparkly outfits and carrying around sparkly clouds and banners saying ‘FEELING BLUE?’ ‘CAN WE HELP?’
We didn’t know what to expect but our team helped a double amputee veteran with his shopping, went to lost and found with someone who lost their wallet, and gave a lozenge to someone with a cold. Although we couldn’t help everyone with what they needed, we had dozens of conversations about mental illness and people were very open about sharing their experiences of things they do to help their mental health.
Sometimes just being there, asking people what they need can be a powerful way to open up those much needed conversations about mental illness and pave the way for people to feel more comfortable asking for help. We had so many conversations that might otherwise not have happened if we hadn’t asked people how we could help and been there to listen.
This is why we at Many Minds believe that performance arts can be such a powerful tool. It gives people permission and opportunity to talk, discuss, debate and relate to feelings and experiences.
We have been going in to schools, hospitals, supported accommodation and community settings and we are looking to work with universities and businesses to use the arts to bring these necessary conversations to light because we know how powerful it can be.
Viki’s show HELP! about her own experiences of mental illness will be showing at The Wardrobe on 22nd – 24th Feb. http://thewardrobetheatre.com/livetheatre/help/
The Guardian describes the show as ‘endearingly comic piece cleverly uses metaphor to point up the importance of asking for help’ and presents another chance for us to help get people talking about mental ill-health.
Many Minds is a new Bristol based mental health charity that make performance with people experiencing mental ill health to engage their creativity, improve confidence, self-esteem and build social skills and networks whilst challenging stigma. For more information about workshops and performances visit: http://www.many-minds.org
Olivia Ware, Director at Many Minds

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