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A Q&A with the Creative Director of the Mental Wealth Festival

The annual Mental Wealth Festival is dedicated to talking more about mental health and how we feel, through sharing, learning and discussing. Ahead of this year’s event we spoke to Tina, the Creative Director behind this unique festival, to find out more…

How did the idea for the festival come about?

It all started with a conversation I had about four years ago - when I was head of Visual Arts at City Lit - with Danny Curtin from Beyond Words, a charitable organisation which provides books and training to support people with a learning disability or communication difficulty.

Back then I was managing the Visual Arts department at City Lit and I really didn’t know how to start the conversation about mental health with staff or students. At the time no one really spoke about their mental health, and the focus in the media was mostly on people being unwell, as opposed to wellness.

We already knew first-hand that the arts and culture all contribute to positive wellbeing and we also knew there was a lot of brilliant and positive work out there. I spoke to our Principal Mark Malcomson about the idea and he immediately gave us the green light – we had just 8 weeks to pull it off.

Why do you think something like this is important?

From the positive response we received after the first festival, we knew we had to do it again.  We learned there wasn’t a one size fits all approach when it comes to mental wellbeing. A festival means people can choose from a wide range of sessions. It also gives us the opportunity to reach as many different communities as possible. Last year mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin even coined us the ‘Glastonbury of Mental Health’!

Can you tell us more about this year’s theme and the thinking behind it?

Learning from previous festivals and listening to our contributors and attendees has helped us enormously as we’ve developed this year’s content – but it remains very much about bringing communities together to share knowledge and focusing on personal development. Our events will cover themes like energy and wellbeing, mental health awareness and coping with pressure and stress.

Hand stitching workshop at last year
A hand stitching workshop at last year's Mental Wealth Festival

What is happening this year?

We’ve got a fantastic range of keynote speakers this year, including Geoff McDonald, Chris Underhill and Katharine Mannix, Grayson Perry and many others.

Day One will focus largely on mental health in the workplace, and will continue in the evening for a discussion on Suicide Prevention – as it coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day. Day Two will focus on mental health at home and within communities. It’s at the National Gallery and there’s an emphasis on connecting the Gallery’s spaces and collection with events that inspire a sense of purpose and positive social empathy.

The grand finale of this year’s Festival is an ‘in conversation’ event with artist Grayson Perry at the National Gallery.

There are a variety of panel discussions, including a Bupa Breakfast chaired by City Lit Principal Mark Malcomson and with panellists including Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind; James Jopling, Executive Director of Samaritans Scotland and Joanna Place, Chief Operating Officer of Bank of England.

We’ve also got a panel discussion on Diversity in the Workplace with panellists: including BBC TV News Producer Laura Hearn, Sarah Newton MP and Trish Driver, CEO of A New Normal.

Ed Balls in conversation with City Lit Principal Mark Malcomson last year
Ed Balls in conversation with City Lit Principal Mark Malcomson at last year's festival

What are you most looking forward to this year?

There are so many exciting workshops on offer! I’m really looking forward to ‘The importance of healthy smartphone use for mental wellbeing’ with Dr Ian Drever and Laura Willis, who’s the founder of Shine Offline, as well as the Chinese painting workshop and ‘When life gives you lemons – making large fruit from felt to create a vast still life’. I’m curious to see how that last one turns out!

I’m also very much looking forward to the discussion around education and art for future generations on the Tuesday.  

Why do you think sessions on mental health research are important to feature in the festival?

There is inspiring research taking place around mental health at the moment and it’s important we showcase this work. Mental health research is essential – it shows us where we’ve come from and where we’re going. 

One of the sessions this year is on MQ’s IDEA project, which is a major international study looking to find universal risk-factors for depression in young people. To do this, they’re analysing research and data about social and family environment, stressful experiences, brain images, and biological data of 10-24 year olds from four different countries.

We want our audience to know about this evidence as in the future, this work will assist with early diagnosis, intervention and save lives.  

What do you hope to achieve this year?

It’s been great to learn more every year and see more and more people attend the festival. We hope to continue the conversation around mental health, but also raise awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health. We know we still have a long way to go - hopefully we are on the right track.

This year’s Mental Wealth Festival will take place on 10 September at City Lit and 11 September at The National Gallery. To see more about the festival visit or follow them on Twitter @mentalwealthfst

Last updated: 5 September 2018

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