This will be a quick blog post to begin to digest some of the information presented at ‘Understanding Suicide’, a series of talks given at Glasgow University’s impressive Hunter Halls. The lecture’s main speaker was Rory O’Connor leader of The Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory (SBRL) at the University of Glasgow, an intelligent and charismatic man. O’Connor succeeded in explaining the common and often highly complex factors behind suicidal thoughts, behaviours and attempts. I won’t reiterate his talk in full here, but rather I’d like to talk about the factors of suicidal thinking that could be intervened through art therapies.
O’Connor talked about a ‘pre-motivational phase’ of suicidal and self-harm thought processes, including background factors and triggering events such as a diathesis towards developing a mental illness, a negative social environment and traumatic life events. He also talked about these factors developing into what he called the ‘motivational phase’ in which ideation or intention formation begins alongside various other factors such as the feeling of defeat and humiliation, entrapment, a treat to self moderators (social problem solving e.g. relationship crisis, interactions with new people, memory biases, ruminative processes), and a disruption in motivational moderators.
Personally I found that I could begin to dissect my anxiety and depression through my art practice, if things weren’t too bad. The worse things got, however, I found I had no motivation to move myself to create anything, and the anxiety of this compacted and made things worse. The idea of facilitating a workshop to help those at crisis point could focus on letting go of any pressures to create anything ‘good’ or meaningful, to simply move your body to create something, anything. To facilitate a sense of mindfulness. To give the mind a rest from the body.
After the talks had ended, I took the opportunity to speak to the founders of Chris’s House, a crisis facility ‘set up to offer a safe environment where people in crisis may have a respite from their current situation, by finding refuge living in Chris’s House for up to five days, and involvement in an individually tailored attendance programme.’ (http://www.chrisshouse.org/about/, accessed 17th Feb 2016). Mentioning that I was an art school graduate and interested in community arts and art therapies, I asked if that was something they offer as treatment at the crisis centre to which one lady excitedly replied ‘Oh, yes! Absolutely!’. She went on to explain that they have some very talented artists who volunteer in the house, and was very keen on the possibility of me facilitating a visual arts workshop.
Overall the evening was a positive one, and I could feel a real sense of change in the attitude towards mental health reiterated in the words of the speakers as they pointed out that ‘20 years ago something like this would have never occurred’.
As part of my job at a well-known card and stationary retailer (again, the name can’t be mentioned due to PR) I run two craft workshops a week, one on a Sunday morning for children and the other on a Wednesday morning for adults. The craft classes last around an hour and are well-attended by people of all ages and abilities. Today, on Valentine’s day, was ‘Valentines Crafts for Kids’. I had five girls attend with ages ranging from four to nine years old.
First, we made a ‘Tree of Love’. Everyone drew around their hand onto kraft paper and cut it out (the younger kids needed help with this, luckily I had two of their mums on hand to help out). They stuck their paper hand silhouettes down onto a cream background and added love-heart ‘leaves’. Next, I asked them to write around the tree the names of the people they love most. I could see they were making certain to get everyone down, it was important to them that they didn’t miss anyone out. They added as much glitter glue, sparkly gems and washi tape as they could fit on the page until they decided they were finished.
Next, we made collages featuring ‘Love Bugs’ - little caterpillars whose bodies are made of heart shapes, complete with wiggly eyes and a big grin. Again, glitter glue, gems and washi tape were added to make their pictures complete. A few of the girls drew a sunny scene, and one of them even added some flowers to hers.
I find it interesting to note the contrast between kids and adults when working in a workshop environment. Adults will often hang back from using initiative, perhaps fearful of judgement or worried it won’t look exactly as my example will. Children, given the right basic instructions, told not to worry about making a mess and the permission to use what they want from the materials I have are far less concerned about perfection and much more engaged in the process of making. It’s great to watch the kids gradually becoming more comfortable with each other, gaining confidence and often going off on their own tangents.
This will be officially ‘My First Blog Post’, and more excitingly, the beginning of a community-based project – something that I have needed for a while.
TEA (or the east ate) is something I got into purely by chance, as some of the best things are. I met Natalia, whose brainchild the project is, through work (I can’t mention the company’s name here for the usual PR reasons, so let’s just say it’s a well-known card and stationary shop). She was buying some ring binders, I asked her why she needed so many, she mentioned TEA and I jumped at the opportunity to get involved. It’s a quirky merging of local food, community and visual art; and the beginning of bringing back good food, and a sense of a community, to the Bridgeton and Calton area of Glasgow. Driven by a group of creatives, TEA is a team of outward looking, optimistic and enthusiastic folk.
“Unlike the West End of the city, which resulted from gradual urban expansion, the East End evolved from a series of small villages, Calton, Bridgeton, Shettleston, etc each with their roots as little weaving communities. As the local cottage industry was replaced by large scale powered mills, the East End became the city’s industrial powerhouse with the production of textiles at its core.” “Calton Heritage Trail.” Page 2, Glasgow City Council. http://www.glasgow.gov.ukCHttpHandler.ashx?id=6656 (Accessed 11 Feb 2016)
According to a 2011/12 census by The Glasgow Indicators Project (http://www.understandingglasgow.com/assets/0002/1237Calton_and_Bridgeton.pdf, Accessed 11 Feb 2016), the area of Bridgeton and Calton is impoverished, at least in comparison to Glasgow as a whole. But ask any local and they will give you a more accurate depiction of the area, they don’t need statistics to tell them that the old feeling of community is dissipating. TEA aims to take a step, however small it might be, towards bringing some life back into the area.
But first, research. Our first step will be to visit a series of libraries and their archives. We have drawn up a list of ‘must-sees’: Calton Heritage Centre; Bridgeton Library; BFI Mediatheque; Mitchell Archives and the Glasgow Women’s Library. Following this initial research we will be, with the help of some funding, running a series of workshops inviting locals to divulge details of the local oral culture, engage in research on the area and create some visual art to go with it. We hope to ‘get a flavour’ of the local food history and ultimately produce a cookbook come history book. In Natalia’s words “…we hope to create a collective memory database around food in the area, passing on food skills, knowledge and memories between generations”.
This blog space will be a space for me to record my findings, and also my experience of running a community arts project. I look forward to the next few months of research, art and community.
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