The Northern Ireland Mental Health Art & Film Festival makes a welcome return this week, continuing on its mission to remove the stigma associated with conditions affecting those throughout the province.
Now in its fourth year, the festival is hosting a wide programme of events, across all of the counties, to showcase the work of professional and amateur artists who have an interest in the field of mental health.
Jane Reynolds returns as Festival Director for the third year, balancing the demands of servicing and promoting a growing festival with working full time as a Community Forensic Mental Health Practitioner.
“It has been wonderful to work alongside others on the committee and to see the festival grow as much as it has in the last three and a half years,” Jane said. “I have met so many amazing people along the way and had the opportunity to hear their stories and help them share their journeys with a wider audience.”
From her previous role as an Occupational Therapist, Jane understands that by expressing themselves and building relationships with others, people can improve their self-esteem and maintain their mental health, and arts and creativity provide a perfect opportunity.
It was Jane’s good friend and colleague Dr Kirsten Kearney, from the Educational Shakespeare Company, who highlighted Northern Ireland was the part of the UK which didn’t have its own Mental Health Arts & Film Festival. She brought together a forceful band of people to change that.
This team included Gavin Davidson (Senior Lecturer in Social Work at QUB), Paula Matthews (a social worker and talented theatre maker) and Shelley Tracey (a poet and poetry therapist, who have been joined this year by Carolyn Blair, Colette Lydon and Jordan Whitfield, with Paul Collins, Assistant Director of PR for Praxis NI who is leading the festival’s media promotion.
“There are numerous individuals who have all participated in making the festival happen; too many to mention, from all walks of life. Geraldine McDonald in Newcastle is a one-woman festival organiser in her own right,” Jane said.
The festival aims to promote the arts as a means of recovery and for reducing stigma and social isolation, often experienced by individuals with mental health issues, and to provide the opportunity to engage in the arts they may not normally have.
This year’s events include music, film, photography, drumming, poetry, drama, improvisation, conversation and debate, craft and social activities, with the NI Library service joining in the fun for the first time.
A highlight for Jane are the short films, which deal with issues such as suicide with sensitivity.
Jane said “I was involved in choosing the films which meant several evenings watching the submissions with many tears and lots of tissues. I am astounded at the bravery and hope expressed in these films.”
Some other key events in the two week programme include Geraldine O’Kane’s “The Poet is Present” which comes to the Linen Hall Library on Saturday 14th May, where she will spend time with individuals touched by mental health issues, their carers and the professionals working with them. The installation is inspired by Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist is Present” and aims to celebrate and empower, and challenge stigma by creating a space where people can be acknowledged.
The Circle Sessions are a performance collective from The International Bar in Dublin, who are appearing in the Great Hall at Queens University, Belfast on 21st May with a mix of poetry, spoken word and music, with the emphasis on crowd participation.
With Northern Ireland having the highest rate of reported mental health issues in the UK, Jane knows the theme of “tackling stigma one conversation at a time” is an important one.
“We want our festival to truly make a difference to the lives of those who come along. We want it to be a celebration of hope and creativity in the face of what could perhaps be seen as adversity, and to open the doors of the arts to a much wider audience.”
You can find a full list of the events which commenced on Monday 9 May and run through to Sunday 22 May, can be found on their website www.nimhaff.org.