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Social Work student helps raise awareness about mental health

BA (Hons) Social Work student Lauren Hunt, talks about her experience of supporting Carnival Mad 15, an event which aims to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing.

BA (Hons) Social Work student Lauren Hunt talks about her experience of supporting Carnival Mad 15, an event which aims to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing.

On Saturday 10 October an exciting event took place in a usually quiet, academic space in Nottingham. The Institute of Mental Health kindly made their space available for Carnival Mad 15, a tumultuous celebration of mad pride which took place in the heart of the University of Nottingham’s Jubilee campus. Described in the run up to the event as a ‘heady mix of conference and carnival’, the event certainly lived up to its name.

Carnival Mad 15 is the brainchild of local organisations Making Waves and Open Futures. The event takes place every year as a part of Nottingham’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). The purpose being to raise the awareness of mental health and wellbeing and to reduce stigma (MHAW, 2015).

The title ‘Carnival Mad’ comes from Mad Pride, a movement created by survivors of mental illness and mental distress that aims to challenge long standing societal prejudice and stigma. Schrader et al, (2013) describe the movement as a shared culture and discuss how it has solidified an active socio-political minority identity. 

With mental health services experiencing cuts (Buchanan, 2015), bed shortages (McNicoll, 2014), ward closures (BBC, 2015) and uncertainty (Ham, 2015), there couldn't be a better time to promote a positive shared identity among those affected.

My involvement with the event began after I approached Matthew Gough, one of the principle lecturers in Social Work at Nottingham Trent University, with the idea of creating an interactive exhibition to explore the impact of mental health upon individuals and society. Matthew listened to my ideas and suggested that I approach local organisation Making Waves to see if they would be interested in working with me. 

Matthew supported me to become involved and continued to offer direction and advice throughout the entire process. As a Social Work student, a keen artist and advocate for the disadvantaged in life, it was with great enthusiasm that I was able to participate in an event that not only celebrated my values and ethos towards mental health, but also encouraged community participation and helped to raise awareness.

Carnival Mad 15 took place on World Mental Health Day, a global celebration of education, awareness and advocacy. The event consisted of a wide range of talks, performances, presentations, workshops and activities, all geared around promoting the voices of those who have lived experience of mental distress. Visitors heard powerful tales of recovery, transformation, trauma and transcendence. Through artistic performances, spoken word, dancing and a musical procession which incorporated ritualistic chants, visitors were able to explore the impact of stigma, the depth of human experience, survival and acceptance.

As part of the event, an interactive art exhibition called Face Value showcased local artistic works, created by people with their own experiences of mental health. Face Value is a concept that aims to explore the themes surrounding a particular subject beyond its surface value. Artists came forward to contribute to the display from many differing perspectives and through a huge variety of mediums. 

The exhibition was opened up to the public through a local artist troupe, The MollyQueen Collective. Founded in 2007, the collective’s main function is to unite the local community through creativity, encouraging active participation in regular community events. 

I was involved in organising the content of the exhibition, which was one of the highlights of my involvement with the Carnival. It offered me the opportunity to meet people and hear their stories. It was fascinating to hear people’s different ideas and support them in their journey to create works of art that fitted the theme of the event. I had never curated an exhibition prior to this and I had a lot to learn, but the staff at the Institute of Mental Health were incredibly helpful in supporting me.

In addition to providing a platform for creativity and the exploration of mental health, the event aimed to promote the services of local charities and organisations who support people experiencing mental health problems. Open House (2015) is a local charitable organisation set up to support mothers experiencing maternal mental health problems, such as post-natal depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Open House exhibited their work entitled It’s not the baby blues, a wonderful series of photographs depicting the reality of how post-natal depression affects people’s lives. In collaboration with photographer Paul Dale and artist Debra Urbacz, the exhibition explored the personal survival stories of ten women. Handmade books accompanied each of the photographs, which shed further light on the personal stories of these women.

Being part of Carnival Mad 15 has been a highly rewarding and valuable addition to my studies. I feel very grateful for being offered the opportunity to be involved in such an event and for having the chance to meet so many fantastic people doing so many amazing things. I also feel humbled by the strength and resilience that survivors of mental health distress exhibit. I would recommend the experience to all students, studying any course; get out there and get involved with events that link in to your course, there is no better way to learn.

I feel passionate about challenging prejudice and discrimination surrounding mental health. As a Social Work student, I am daunted by the fact that I will be entering a profession where I will want to be able to offer the services that people need, while knowing that budgets and structural constraints will impact on the availability of such services. Learning about this in lectures is one thing, but hearing the reality of this from someone who has experienced it first hand is another thing entirely.

Although there is stereotypically a dark cloud hovering over the field of mental health, there is also a lot of positive action taking place. Brilliant organisations like Breakthrough Initiative exist to celebrate and encourage positive practice with a recognition and award scheme (Breakthrough, 2014). 

World Mental Health Day happens each year to bring current themes within mental health to the forefront, such as this year’s theme, ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ (MHF, 2015). Nottingham’s own Mental Health Awareness Week extends over two weeks to incorporate the amount of input and positive happenings that occur in the City. As a part of that, Carnival Mad 16 sits nestled firmly into the agenda for next year.

Lauren Hunt, BA (Hons) Social Work

BBC (2015) Broomhill house: Campaign fails to save mental health unit (Accessed: 2 November 2015).

Breakthrough, I. (2014) Positive practice in mental health - national awards (Accessed: 2 November 2015).

Buchanan, M. (2015) Mental health service budgets ‘cut by 8%’ (Accessed: 2 November 2015).

Corrigan, P. W. (2014) Mental health stigma and primary health care decisions (Accessed: 30 October 2015).

Foundation, M. H. (2006) World Mental Health Day (Accessed: 2 November 2015).

Futures, O. (2015) Open Futures Network (Accessed: 2 November 2015).

Ham, C. (2015) Three challenges and a big uncertainty for the NHS in 2015 (Accessed: 2 November 2015).

House, O. (2015) Open House Nottingham (Accessed: 3 November 2015).

McNicoll, A. (2014) Deaths linked to mental health beds crisis as cuts leave little slack in system (Accessed: 2 November 2015).

Schrader, S., Jones, N. and Shattell, M. (2013) ‘Mad pride: Reflections on Sociopolitical identity and mental diversity in the context of culturally competent psychiatric care’, Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 34(1), pp. 62–64. doi: 10.3109/01612840.2012.740769.

Social Work student helps raise awareness about mental health

Published on 26 November 2015
  • Category: Press office; School of Social Sciences

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