Beyond the Stigma – young people using the art of poetry to end the stigma of mental health
Poetry works on many levels: it is a powerful way to connect with individuals and communities; it is a fun and memorable way of sharing information and challenging myths and prejudice and it takes the individual on a personal journey where they find a new form of self-expression. It’s for these reasons that poetry is the perfect vehicle for community development and rights based work.
Changing Our Lives delivered a series of poetry events in Palfrey, Walsall, with a focus on mental health and wellbeing. We worked with schools and community leaders within the Muslim community. We took this approach as we know from our local work and national research that mental health inequalities are prevalent within BME communities and myths surrounding mental health continue to impact negatively on people’s lives and communities as a whole.
We equally wanted to explore how poetry can be developed as both a creative and cultural experience with individuals and communities, where poetry may rarely be written, spoken or read. Taking poetry workshops into this community helped us to explore the ways that young people were able to use a creative arts medium to tackle issues around mental health, challenge stereotypes and increase awareness. Working with schools, community leaders and an established poet, we tailored each poetry workshop to the needs of the individual group.
The poetry workshops were led by poet (Dreadlock Alien, former Birmingham Poet Laureate, 2005-2006) who worked with young people to develop their poetry and perform it in front of their peers. To begin with, leaders from Changing Our Lives who have current or recent lived experience of mental health difficulties, facilitated a discussion around mental health. This encompassed the definition of mental health, the relationship between mental and physical health, and the way young people view mental health. This discussion enabled them to understand and capture their own experiences within the poetry.
From page to stage
The series of workshops culminated in a ‘Poetry Slam’ which saw the schools join together in a vibrant and exciting event with their families, faith leaders and the wider community.
Young people from years 4 -11 who took part in the workshops, performed the final version of their poems using drama, beat box, song and spoken word. Some had produced artwork to illustrate their thoughts and feelings about mental health. Clearly and confidently they championed the message that ‘We all have mental health’.
Delivering this message in a fun and innovative, yet poignant way, began to tackle some of the stereotypes that exist with the community, increase people’s awareness around mental health and celebrate the young people’s creative achievements and understanding.