Festival targets stigma of mental ill-health


THE ORGANISERS of Ireland’s first mental health arts festival have said it will make the first two weeks of the year synonymous with breaking down the stigma associated with mental ill-health.

The First Fortnight Festival drew to a close in Dublin’s Temple Bar at the weekend with a concert featuring Royseven, Cashier No 9 and Le Galaxie and dREA.

It was preceded by a soapbox session in which people such as newsreader Eileen Dunne, writer Paul Murray and actor Mary McEvoy spoke about artistic pieces that inspired them and represented their feelings on the issue of mental health.

Hosting the soapbox, RTÉ broadcaster Claire Byrne said she hoped the festival would become an annual event. It was staged in association with See Change, a Government-backed initiative, which she said was about encouraging people to see mental health problems as ordinary and nothing to be ashamed of.

During the soapbox session, garden designer Diarmuid Gavin spoke about his father’s depression and how it affected the family. He said the illness had blighted the life of his hard-working father. He spent 20 years visiting his father in hospitals “and it was terrible to see somebody afflicted so much by this disease where there wasn’t much to look forward to”.

His “brilliant and passionate” father found solace listening to the Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling and he died one year ago surrounded by his family and his music.

Newsreader Eileen Dunne also highlighted the solace offered by music and drew attention to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2. He wrote the concerto after undergoing auto-suggestive therapy following a severe depression.

Broadcaster Dil Wickremasingher observed the Irish tendency to put themselves down yet when it came to mental ill-health, people tended to talk themselves up and pretend that things were much better than they were. Actor Mary McEvoy read from her book How The Light Gets In, which documents her depression.

The First Fortnight arts project was founded three years ago by JP Swaine but this was the first year it was extended into a 10-day festival. Mr Swaine said the voluntary organisers were humbled by the “overwhelming positive response” to the cultural events.

“Observing the crowds that gathered in theatres, galleries, cinemas and music venues, we are astonished with the ease that festival-goers have connected with process of challenging the prejudices and stigma around mental health through arts events,” he added.

Mr Swaine said the first two weeks of the year were chosen because that period was perceived to be a particularly difficult time for those suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts.

Almost a quarter of Irish people have experience of mental illness or a suicide in their peer group, according to the recently published Global Health Survey 2011.