One of the most exciting projects I am involved in is HeadSpace, a new writing and art zine based around mental health. For more information please see www.headspace-magazine.com or follow www.facebook.com/HeadSpaceForAll, or follow @headspacezine on twitter.
HeadSpace is a writing and art magazine based around the theme of mental health. The idea was born from the experiences of a group of young people who were dealing with mental health difficulties. It was clear for those who had spent time in psychiatric wards that there was a lack of appropriate reading material available there, and few places to express the artwork they had made in the ward following discharge. Others felt oppressed by the stigma around mental health which made it difficult to communicate their experiences in times of poor mental health or after an improvement.
The name HeadSpace was motivated by the idea that in culture and society, we are not given the time or capacity to express, create and think as time is money, but all of us feel the need to buy some ‘headspace’ – you need to be able to afford reflection, and reflection and time are essentials to maintaining positive mental health.
The magazine, which will be launched in March and distributed in psychiatric wards, support groups and University welfare offices as well as being available for general purchase, will act as a forum for expression and creativity based around the theme of mental health as well as showing solidarity and support for people not in the whole of their mental health. The zine will express and explore all aspects of mental health, positive and negative, in an effort to engage the public with an issue which is often taboo and shied away from. How do you define mental health? How does it relate to society, to family, to history? How is it perceived? What’s its relationship to personal responsibility? HeadSpace doesn’t presume it will answer these questions. But it will help us all to think about them.
The Origins of HeadSpace (by Orla Price, founder and creative director)
Mental health is not some neat box that can be categorised and put on a shelf. it is more than bottles of pills, support services, phone-lines, specialised campaigns and hospital wards. Mental health is something that reaches every part of us and every part of our everyday lives. It affects and is affected by so many facets, of society, of living itself. This was the main motivation behind wanting to produce the magazine ‘Headspace’ and that art and creativity gave us the platform to express those feelings where simple conversation and the framework of conventional language fail. The name HeadSpace was motivated by the idea that in culture and society, we are not given the time or capacity to express, create and think as time is money but all of us feel the need to buy some ‘HeadSpace’ – you need to be able to afford reflection and reflection and time are essentials to maintaining positive health. On a personal level, from time spent in hospital, I felt wards could do with more reading material than the information and help leaflets. That people might feel elements of solidarity and support, when reading voices not unlike their own that speak of recovery, hope or simply reflect what they are going through. However this is not a project confined to the wards and hallways of a hospital but also a project that aims to engage the whole public, to think about and express their own mental health and to engage them with a subject that is often taboo and shied away from. It is ultimately an effort to shout about what can’t stay silent.
It is almost impossible to speak of mental health without speaking of the problems we face as a whole, of the ordinary facts and reality of the daily. Mental health is more than an election speech. The mental health of a nation is a deep and complicated notion. Steps taken to relieve the problems should of course find outlet in the specialised supports and services available but these supports and services should be considered a last resort. We must go back to the start and ask the question – why do so many need to access help in the first place? Mental health difficulties produce a viscous cycle. Factors such as social exclusion breed mental illness but similarly the stigma attached to mental illness breeds further social exclusion. Social exclusion results from factors such as poverty, poor living conditions and social groups. Suicide rates for male travellers are 6.6 times higher than the rest of the population. Facts like these are quite frankly stark and disturbing. The aforementioned factors create an unequal society, and all evidence points that mental illness is more prevalent in wealthier but more unequal societies. The wealthier but more unequal societies also generate more social problems, such as substance and alcohol abuse and violence which are consequences of the state of a person’s mental health. Sometimes used to diagnose illness, they are known as co-morbid’s. Inequality erodes trust and anxiety, generating stress and illness.
The estimated cost of mental illness, stated in the report ‘Vision for Change’ was 11 billion annually. If we alleviate the need to access the services and as well as improve them, then we save money expanding them. Suppose we live in a hypothetical land where we pledged as much as possible to make the services as good as they could be, this would surely contribute to improving recovery but would it necessarily reduce the numbers of people looking for help in the first place (at no matter what stage)? This is merely a thought experiment and I’m trying to deviate from making any large claims, but surely we do not solve a problem without looking for its source? It seems ridiculous that if we are presented with a leak, we would just plug it up whilst the water builds and builds behind it and it eventually explodes. Of course to plug it up should be the initial reaction but it should not be the only reaction. Surely the next step must be to determine its cause such as a burst pipe and fix the pipe. Claims to alleviate our general mental health and well being should find themselves expressed in everything from education to employment to how we are looked after in our old age. It is about time a serious discussion started on the factors that are potentially contributing to the deterioration of mental health in society.
We have been astounded by the response to HeadSpace, which started out as simply a facebook page, but then it snowballed. Thank you messages and stories sent to us made us plough on through the lack of funding and practical difficulties and although it certainly took a lot of time and work we are nearing publication. The level of talent within its pages lets it standalone and speak for itself and we can only hope you appreciate these voices as much as we did.
Why I Got Involved
I first heard of this fantastic project when it was at a very early stage, and it caught my attention and imagination immediately. Over the course of my lifetime I have seen Ireland’s attitude to mental health change, but there is much improvement yet to be made. While Ireland has seen a great improvement in its awareness of the importance of mental health in the last decade or so, this has not been fully matched by a better understanding of mental health and mental ill-health. The stigma surrounding metal illness has been lessened, but will not disappear until a better understanding of what it is to be unwell mentally is reached.
The culture of silence and denial have become entrenched and mental health, despite its importance, remains an issue that few people seem comfortable discussing or trying to address.
HeadSpace provides a platform for people to use their creative talents to tackle the very difficult issue of mental health in a way that does not shy away from the darker, difficult realities, but also tells very true stories of hope and recovery. I admired the initiative of the creators and founders of the HeadSpace project and envisioned that it could be something very special indeed. I got involved in stages, first joining the discussion online as to how to get the project off the ground, and then starting to come to meetings. It’s been an honour to be able to give more and more to the project. I am now a deputy editor (we have an editor, Orla Price, who founded the magazine and is overall director, and two deputy editors, Lisa Burke and myself).
It is difficult to articulate how proud and privileged I feel to be a part of this project. The art, fiction, poetry and personal experience stories will make you laugh, cry and smile, sometimes all at once, and by the time you put the magazine down you will see the world differently and your life will be enriched for it.
Issue 1 Coming Soon!
The first ever issue of HeadSpace is on the way, and we can promise that it is something very special indeed. The editorial board read and re-read every single submission that we received, which amounted to hundreds of poems, pieces of art, personal experience stories and works of fiction.
To be an editor is both a privilege and painful. To read such high quality, inspiring pieces, and to know that in many cases you are the first person to read the work of a very talented author is a privilege indeed, and a real pleasure. To be able to publish, and provide a path for these pieces of work to reach an audience, is an honour indeed, and a heavy responsibility. Great care must be taken to ensure that the highest of standards are maintained throughout the magazine, and across all categories of writing and art. We were extremely fortunate with HeadSpace; the talent in our submissions was breathtaking. But to have to make the decision on which submissions to include and which we had to leave out was a very painful one. As a writer, I know the work, energy and passion that goes into producing a piece of writing, and I know that to make something you’ve written public is a difficult, nerve-wracking thing to do. It is not pleasant to have to turn down so many submissions which displayed so much talent: but ultimately we only have a limited amount of space. A word of advice to aspiring writers; HeadSpace had a clear theme, and we gave information on this theme. Many writers (and particularly poets for some reason) sent us what was clearly a standard portfolio and a vague “I suppose my work is sorta relevent to you…” cover letter. A few people just sent links to flickr accounts and blogs, without making any visible effort to discern whether we were right for them, and vice versa. These people were not even shortlisted.
At the moment, we on the HeadSpace team are getting very excited! We have finalised the content for our first issue, and are busy working with the talented Michelle of PaperGirl Dublin (https://www.facebook.com/PapergirlDublin) on the design and layout. We’re also busy planning the launch, which will be held in the Twisted Pepper on May 11th. More info coming soon…
For more info and to keep up to date, like Headspace on facebook here https://www.facebook.com/pages/HeadSpace/389308924455233?fref=ts
The first issue is also available for pre-ordering online here http://headspacemagazine.bigcartel.com/product/headspace-issue-1