3 weeks ago | Words: Sue Bennett
We chatted to singer songwriter Sam Fender for our ‘We Love Life’ exhibition which continues through mental health awareness week at Constellations in Liverpool.
Okay. What’s your full name, age, and where you’re from?
I’m Samuel Thomas Fender, I’m 22 and from North Shields Tyne and Wear
Are you studying or working?
What, and where?
I’m working as a singer-songwriter at home and away.
Awesome. What are your plans for today?
I’m going to record the next single vocals. Do a chat with you; go do some photos and the have a rehearsal. Then pack my bag and go to bed.
Awesome. What are you listening to, reading and watching at the moment?
I’m reading a book called Sapiens, which is fucking mental. It’s absolutely crackers it’s about the beginning of mankind. It’s like pretty nerdy but it’s about the human race and there were loads of different species of humans coexisting at one time. There were about 7 different types of human. So that’s been kind of boxing my head. What have I been watching on TV? I just watched that Green Room thing last night. That was pretty brutal. And what else?
What are you listening to?
Oh oodles of stuff. But always always Joni Mitchell. I listen to Joni Mitchell all the time. She’s my hero.
What would constitute a perfect day for you?
I don’t know. Because there are different types of perfect days isn’t there? Cos like there’s a perfect day if I get loads of work done and then I’m happy with myself, then there’s a perfect day when I just lay may work beside and get lashed and have a great time. So, I don’t know. You can’t really combine the two because that just doesn’t exist.
But like an idealistic, perfect day. Something where you want to wake up and you can have like a blissful day?
Okay. Wake up in the South of Italy. That’s a perfect day. That’s where I’m going to go on holiday. Yeah, so I wake up in the South of Italy. I’d go to Franco for a pizza. If I had a boat that would be cool. That’s probably perfect like, having a boat, going round the Med, getting pissed. Just being like a Geordie swashbuckler, but in the med. With loads of red wine and carbs. That’s a perfect day.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful for?
I am most grateful for my friends because they are wonderful. And I’ve got a really, really good group of friends, I know that’s pretty wet but – that’s really important. Family and friends man. You choose your friends so it’s important. And I think when you actually, when you find out, I think you go through a lot of phases when you’re growing up and you hang out with a lot of people who are total cunts probably. If you are lucky enough and you actually find a good set of mates who will actually stick by you for life, that’s the most important thing. And there’s nothing I love more then getting off to go see them.
Awesome. Complete the sentence for me: Ace mental health for me means __ ?
For me it means, what it means to me? Well, I think anybody would want that, but it’s very rare that you’re going to be. What is good mental health? Is it being balanced, is it having a good-? Oh, what is it? I don’t know. That’s a tough one that. I actually struggle with that question. Cos, I think for me, I don’t know what it is for me really. Just, staying busy. Like, I think I get myself in a rut when I’m not doing anything. But, also I think it’s quite easy to go in on yourself and think everything’s against you. And I think what helps me is helping my friends. So if my mates are in bother or if anyone, I think just trying to adopt a more selfless life. If you start becoming more selfless and looking after the people around you, you will look after yourself. Like, just completely subconsciously, because you will be doing something good. You will feel good about it. As long as you are looking after other people, I think the Universe will give that back. Not that I believe in any of that, but you know what I mean. Just if you’re doing good, it will come to you naturally.
What do you do to stay mentally healthy?
Do my music. This is the wettest interview I’ve ever had to give. But, it really is my therapy. If I’m not doing this then I go a bit mental. I think just writing. Documenting what’s going on in my life. It’s kind of like a diary where I can unload all of the stuff that I want to talk about. And again, just looking after, it’s just the same answer really, like if you kind of try and make a conscious effort to be more selfless in your day to day life with even people on the street and friends. You know if you like smile, you know that thing where just smiling at someone a day, stuff like that. There’s a lot, you can adopt a lot of little habits like that and make it into your mantra and that makes you, probably makes you happy. I think so. I think everything’s just trial and error.
I think probably people will just be like ‘eat well, eat healthy food, set goals’, but I think that, was it someone saying that the main things that a person needs to be mentally stable is that you need to feel wanted or something or that you need to have a purpose? And something else. I think those things are pretty imperative to good mental health. I mean whether feeling wanted is somebody having somebody to love or having just being loved in return and purpose is well. I don’t know. You can get purpose from anything can’t you. Because even doing my music and stuff like that, that is purpose but it’s not like, I don’t think it’s as important as something like having a kid or something, that’s real. That’s purpose. That’s real responsibility. That’s life changing. I’ve got to guide this little creature through this shit storm. So, yeah. I think I would like to be good at that. That’s purpose.
Last one. Who inspires you and why?
There are loads of people who inspire me. I don’t know. I love all my singer-songwriters, stuff like that, but when you say who inspires, I kind of instantly on autopilot go to music because we’re talking about music all the time. But I’m trying to think of maybe someone else that inspires me. I’ll come back in like a week and answer that. I don’t know. I’ve got like all the wettest answers it’s really bad. Me mam – we’re best mates (joking). I really want to say the wettest answer ever but no I’m not saying that, I can’t say that. What have I become, who am I. Let’s move on. That’s the last one. I will think about it. We’ll come back to that one.
5 days ago | Words: Conor Giblin | Photography: Jennifer McCord
Austel is the moniker of the Devon-born artist Annie Rew Shaw, who makes haunting, emotional, cinematic music, discussing themes such as outgrowing your surroundings and the renewal of the self. Her latest single ‘Lost At Home’ is beautiful, exploring the depths of loneliness and isolation that you can sometimes reach when you’re suffering from mental illness. We chatted to Annie about how therapeutic drawing can be, maintaining a healthy diet, Brutalist architecture and more, as she prepares to release her debut EP Unfold this summer.
Your new single ‘Lost At Home’ is absolutely stunning. The video was shot at the awesome Barbican Estate in London. What made you choose that location? Are you a fan of Brutalist architecture?
Thank you! We wanted to find somewhere with open space, but also an intimidating, bleak feel, so the Barbican’s beautiful Brutalist landscape served well.
I then go on to travel through different parts of London – places that are significant to me and my time spent here so far. There’s a lot of contrast – streets, stations, more natural environments like Hampstead Heath and abandoned railway tracks. It documents a struggle to find home; to find where you belong.
The track talks about feeling unsettled in your own home, which is definitely a very relatable feeling. How do you think people can combat that feeling?
The idea of ‘home’ is such a tangible one. I’ve always struggled to find my place in the world, as I think many people do.
‘Lost At Home’ documents a difficult time for me – I felt like I was shrinking as a person; my relationship wasn’t working anymore and I felt defeated by the city I was trying so hard to make my home. I made some big changes and spent a year or so free-falling until I found my feet again. But it was an invaluable experience and I feel I’ve grown immensely as a person because of going through that.
The most important thing I’ve learnt in the past couple of years is that sometimes you need to look inwards to find the things you’re searching for. Learning to love yourself – to be content with who you are without the need for validation from others – isn’t easy, but it’s so important to work towards. You are your own home, no matter where you go.
Your debut single ‘Crows’ was released earlier this year. For those who haven’t heard it, what is the song about and what were you feeling when you were writing it?
‘Crows’ was written at the end of 2016, at a time when I was feeling insecure and doubting my own decisions. The lyrics served as a kind-of mantra for me; reminding myself to trust my gut and follow my instincts.
What has been your biggest life challenge and what did you do to overcome it?
Last year I found myself in one of the darkest places I’ve ever been, and I pulled myself out of it again. I’m lucky to have some wonderfully supportive friends and family who forced me to be honest, even when I was trying to hide everything, and they made me realise it was okay to ask for help.
I had some therapy – something I think everyone should have more of. I learnt some great CBT techniques, which I still use. I wrote a lot of music, made a lot of art. Songwriting is like a superpower – it’s a brilliant tool to help process what’s going on and find some cathartic release.
How important has music been to your mental health?
Music is absolutely invaluable to my mental health. It always has been. It’s so powerful – it creates connection and relatability and generates an emotional response like nothing else. Listening to records, singing with my bandmates, writing a song… they’re all incredible forms of therapy.
What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?
A walk in the sun, good food, listening to or playing music and spending time with the people I love.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
Knowing so many wonderful people who enrich my life every single day. Feeling the sun, the wind and the rain and being a tiny part of this beautiful universe.
Complete this sentence: “Ace mental health for me means…”
Engaging with how I feel and letting it happen, rather than trying to resist it.
Who was your best friend at school? What was the funniest thing they did?
My best friend at school was a guy called Fred and he was a constant source of entertainment. We walked to and from school together most days and were always making each other laugh.
What advice do you offer to friends when they are feeling overwhelmed?
Try to zoom out for a moment to reflect. It’s very easy to continually look towards the next thing, the next goal, and forget how far you’ve come or how much you’ve actually achieved. Don’t be ashamed of taking some time out. You can’t do anything well if you’re not well yourself.
What three songs lift your spirits?
I Fought The Law – The Clash
Twist And Shout – The Beatles
Get Rhythm – Johnny Cash
Do you have any routines that help you through stressful situations, such as right before a live performance?
When I feel really overwhelmed or stressed, I go for a walk, read a book or play the piano. I draw these little line drawings which are a really great way for me to focus my mind, as you find a flow but it doesn’t take too much focus.
What do you eat to stay healthy?
I eat the food that makes me happy. I’m pescatarian, I eat a lot of vegetables, avoid processed food and try not to drink too much coffee or alcohol, but fundamentally, the less I worry about food the happier and healthier I am.
Do you have a daily routine of exercise or do you make it up as you go along?
I’ve never been that sporty and sometimes going to the gym has done more bad than good for my mental health, so I try and do gentler forms of exercise like walking and yoga.
There’s a huge amount of pressure on people to look a certain way and follow a certain lifestyle, and while I believe it’s important to look after your physical health, it’s vital to ensure that your mental health is in a good place above anything else.
‘Lost At Home’ is out now: https://fanlink.to/AustelLostAtHome
Austel will release her debut EP Unfold this summer.
7 days ago | Words: Nick Booton
For me, the worn out stereotype of the suffering artist as some romanticised lifestyle where tortured souls live a life on the booze to awaken their masterpiece within, is a tad misleading. But there may be a certain truth under the hood. Close links have been studied between levels of adrenal steroids (known as DHEAS) in both those experiencing depression and excelling in creativity, meaning the more creative among us can be prone to intense negative emotions. Who better then to tackle the issues surrounding mental health than the designers and visual communicators explored below.
Kurdish illustrator Tishk Barzanji’s dream-like architectural landscapes present us with an abundance of choice and freedom as our eyes travel through the multitude of staircases, alleyways and arches in his complex universe. Yet as we scratch the surface of the illusion, there is a deeper sense of entrapment that Tishk is sourcing from past experiences with anxiety. He overcame severe isolation brought on by the condition and was able to turn the experience on its head as he became drawn to the influence our spaces can have on us. Aiming to capture the human side of isolation, his characters explore infinite space, and in doing so potentially explore themselves, climbing mental ladders, every turn offering a new insight.
There is no denying the integral role graphic design plays in our modern lives, seamlessly conversing with us at every juncture of our daily commute. Whilst we find it easy to cast a cynicism towards the garish advertising begging for our attention, this just makes the moment sweeter when that same advertising spot is replaced with an idea that just hits home. I can’t think of a better example than London based ad agency Mullen Lowe and their ‘We Listen’ campaign for Samaritans. This minimal design concept pairing compassionate photography with encrypted typographic statements cut straight through to the heart of their message. Their research studies revealed that 23% of people in the UK feel they can’t talk when something’s on their mind, a problem that they hope to overcome as they offer a welcome ear to the nation. This smart execution displays the power of design to simplify complex information and communicate meaningful solutions, justified by their awarding of a prestigious D&AD Pencil.
Fe Rebeiro – still from ‘Pathway Through care’
Allen Laseter – still from ‘Transitions’
Canadian design and animation studio Wonderlust deliver a masterclass in beautifully rendered storytelling for Teen Mental Health, a charity relying on strong scientific input to provide information and improve the mental health of youths. With illustrators such as Fe Ribeiro and Allen Laseter jumping on board, Wonderlust have delivered several moving image campaigns to help visualise the ambitions and incentives of this invaluable organisation with tasty animations under the creative direction of Ryan Rumbolt. Oozing with charm and playful transitions the studio succeeds in providing a contemporary and up-to-date identity, helping drive positive youth engagement to the vast online resources. This seemless marriage of world class illustration, animation and creative direction paired with highly credible and in-depth mental health resources is surely the winning combination if we want to bridge the gap between isolated sufferers and their new support network.
At 17 years old Sara Lopez Ibanez found herself battling severe depression and seeking support from mental health services, unfortunately finding the process couldn’t answer to her individual needs, such is the diversity of conditions. This personal experience led Sara to use her design mind to problem solve whilst studying an MA in Industrial Design at Central Saint Martins. Collating vast amounts of data from clinical professionals, Sara designed ‘Mindnosis’, a social enterprise self-help kit that lets those experiencing mental health issues determine their individual emotions, providing clarity at times of need and allowing users to best identify the help they need and where that can be found. This intimate approach assures a unique empathy that may be lacking in many medical services, with the potential for one-to-one meetings and a voice of personal understanding only achievable through direct experience.
Listen up and take note – UK based designer Emily Briselden-Waters commands our attention with her ‘Circus of Anxiety’, a life-size, tangible experience designed to involve the viewer in an induced space of anxiety. Understanding that anxiety has become an inherent difficulty burdened by many women, Emily’s substantial research collects accounts from medical professionals, mental health activists and first-hand sufferers to reveal common frustrations. The lack of tangibility or physicality associated with anxiety has compromised our abilities to understand and react competently to resolve these issues and it is ultimately this idea that Emily has challenged in her project. With a focus on physicality and form this adaptable Circus finds a visual playground for mental health to cling to, undeniably present and absolutely real. Combining sculptural set-design with moving-image and performative dance, Emily is able to offer a unique experience for her collaborators as much as her audience, each participant taking away an individual understanding of the piece and it’s communication. Not only does this piece help visualise the unknown but it also reaches back into history to tackle stigma head on. The name is a reference to past times when women suffering with ‘hysteria’ were made to perform live for paying audiences under the guise of male doctors. This seemingly ancient practice reveals a cynical stigma attached to mental health that we may not have fully shaken off, but as designers such as Emily continue to dig their heels in and demand courses of action through communication, participation and first-hand realisation maybe we can start to understand our conditions and build a community based upon support and care for those struggling.
Nick Booton is the curator of In One Room, which invites 10 contemporary printmakers from around the UK to showcase fresh ideas in Islington Mill, from 7-10 June 2018.
b r u ï
7 days ago | Words: Sue Bennett
Writer Natasha Devon MBE is a mental health and body image campaigner. She regularly tours schools and colleges advising young people on how they can stay mentally healthy and appreciate their bodies. A keen advocate of Mental Health First Aid, Natasha writes regularly for the Guardian. In 2016, the Sunday Times and Debretts named Natasha one of the 500 most influential people in Britain. We caught up with her ahead of the release of her new book A Beginners Guide to Being Mental A-Z for a few life lessons on Mental Health First Aid, resilience, academic pressure, social media and anxiety…
Hi Natasha, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on campaign with Mental Health First Aid England and Bauer Media where we are petitioning the government for a change in workplace legislation so that it would be compulsory to have mental health first aiders on site in the same way that you have physical health first aiders. The idea is that if you’re at work and you cut your finger there’s probably somebody on site who has a little box full of plasters and who knows what to do, or if you have a nosebleed. But if you have a panic attack there won’t necessarily be anyone in the office that will have the knowledge to help you because one in six people have had mental health issue at work in the past year so we think that it would be sensible to have those people.
Are you Mental Health First Aid trained? Can you explain a little about the process of Mental Health First Aid?
I am yes. There’s a number of different techniques you can use. In the case of a panic attack, the first is always to regulate someone’s breathing. What you would usually do is ask somebody to focus on your hand and then to breathe in time with your hand going up and down slowly. This not only regulates their breathing but also focuses them on something in the room, because when you’re having a panic attack, quite often sounds and colours can be really overwhelming. Making sure the person having the panic attack is positioned next to a wall is also important, so if they do faint they don’t collapse on you because if someone is a dead weight they’re really heavy and you probably won’t be able to hold them. Then once you’ve regulated their breathing and calmed them down the core of the Mental Health First Aid course is about non-judgemental listening skills so it’s talking to them about what caused the anxiety and helping them to understand what their triggers are and what they can do if it happens again.
How do you think Mental Health First Aid will change relationships at work?
We know that time taken off for stress and back pain (90% of which is caused by stress) are of huge cost to the economy. We also know the earlier you spot a mental health issue, the more treatable and manageable it is. So if you have people in your office who are primed to spot the early signs and symptoms and to help people to manage them then that’s going to save you money. It’s a good economic decision to make. Bauer Media also conducted their own surveys for this campaign and we found there’s a lot of people who would never tell their boss if they were struggling with their mental health and if they had to take time off work they would pretend it was for something else. That doesn’t help their quality of life or help their employer to get the best out of them for example when you are first on mental health medication it can be really difficult to get up in the mornings. So a really simple thing that a lot of people I know have done that’s really helped is they’ve spoken to their employer and said ‘Can I start work two hours later and finish two hours later because I feel more awake in the evenings. It can be difficult to get to sleep sometimes even, so can we shift my working hours while this medication gets into my system’. If you don’t have communication, one person is going to feel really shameful and guilty as it’s shrouded in secrecy and the other person is going to lose money which I think is the bottom line for a lot of employers, it’s about productivity.
The word resilience is used a lot when describing mental health. How do we become more resilient?
I always think resilience is mental fitness – the ability to deal with challenges. It’s about equipping somebody with techniques so that if things happen to them – which they will as they are human beings experiencing life – they can go ‘okay, I’ve got some tools I can use to try and deal with this’.
You’ve spoken a lot recently on the issue of academic pressure for young people. Is the curriculum something that you are campaigning to change in terms of how students are tested?
I don’t think the curriculum is fit for purpose. I don’t think it ever has been really and ironically the people that get to influence policy are the people who by definition (with the curriculum as it is) who have benefited. I remember I was talking to an advisor for David Cameron and I was asking ‘who picks what we study in schools?’ You know, my thing was English, but it was really dominated by white male authors so I was like ‘who decided that?’ and he was there going: ‘Look, we didn’t just pick it arbitrarily, the reason that you studied what you studied was because it works’. I was listening to him going ‘well it works for you’ and that’s the problem, by definition he’s now the person influencing policy but it’s not taking into account all of the people that doesn’t work for and it doesn’t engage. I think the good news is that because of the changes in technology it’s going to force the hand of the government because now the system just looks archaic because we’re living in the digital era and I think might finally be the thing that will change things but we’ll see.
You’ve also been quite vocal on the issue of social media. Do you think that the dynamic of friendship has become somewhat devalued because of the language we use to define our online connections with friends?
That’s a really interesting question. I’m kind of conflicted about social media because I think as much as it is changing the way that we relate to each other it is also a handy scapegoat. You’ll have seen just recently that Jeremy Hunt is ‘going in on Facebook’ – whatever that means because they’re an American company so he actually can’t do anything. Because that conveniently absolves this government of other things they’ve directly contributed to that is making young people anxious and depressed. For example student loans or unemployment or not being able to get on the housing ladder. So I’m not a fan of the way social media has often been used as a way to deflect from other things. We are able to say things online that we wouldn’t say face-to-face. Actually that can provide a nice segue into having that conversation in real life because you can say things via social media that lets the other person know so that then they can be a little bit more prepared when it comes to having the conversation. I am good friends with Jonny Benjamin who is also a mental health campaigner and he actually began talking about having schizoaffective disorder on his blog on YouTube because he said he found it easier to open up to a camera than it was to look somebody else in the eye. Now you will find that he is really comfortable talking about it but he needed that sort of in between stage to get there.
As someone with anxiety, how did you get to the point of being able to become a strong public speaker? Are there any tools you use to stay calm?
Things which should freak me out don’t. This is where you can, if you have anxiety, get a little bit of imposter syndrome because you’re like ‘well I know other people with anxiety disorders who wouldn’t be able to do public speaking’. So, public speaking, appearing on live TV, telling off politicians all of these things I can just do. And I think it’s because, in my head (and this isn’t really a conscious thought process) but I feel like I’m doing it for other people so it’s like all of these people within the mental health community who are struggling or feeling vulnerable right now and they need a voice and it’s because of that right I’ve got to deliver because it’s them that need me.
So for me my anxiety manifests much more in personal confrontations I am rubbish at like when it’s my needs that need to be met. I really struggle with claustrophobia which isn’t ideal living in London – lots of crowds and things. Also I struggle with paranoid thoughts again mostly relating to friendships and intimate relationships like if somebody doesn’t text me for a while or they say something on social media that’s a bit cryptic I think ‘Oh God, it’s about me and they hate me’ and again I’ve had to learn how to go ‘okay, that’s anxiety’s voice and we’ll just let that exhaust itself because it’s not got any relation to reality you know.
Natasha has given us some tips for staying mentally healthy for Going Through The Emotions. Her latest book A Beginners Guide to Being Mental: An A-Z is available here.
Learn more about Mental Health First Aid here.
Natasha is supporting a campaign to make it compulsory to have a mental health first aider at work #wheresyourheadat. Find our more here.