Arts, mental health and social justice in New Haven, Connecticut

In April and May this year I was fortunate to spend a month working in the Programme for Recovery and Community Health at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, in the United States.

The trip was part of the CRISP EU knowledge exchange programme, which focuses on equality and shared learning, promoting social inclusion of people with mental health problems, with an emphasis on gender. I was joined by Mental Health Foundation colleagues Amal Azzudin, Iris Elliott and Lee Knifton and others from programme. 

With funding from Horizon 2020, the University of Strathclyde-led CRISP programme includes the Mental Health Foundation, the Finnish Association for Mental Health, Ulm University in Germany, Yale University, New York University, and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Both Amal and I were visiting as part of the citizenship and participatory research strand of the project. 

The focus of my work during the visit was largely around the arts and mental health. My role in the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland includes managing the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, an annual, month-long, Scotland-wide event which aims to promote social change through the arts.

Our counterparts at the Programme for Recovery and Community Health were interested in how we might adapt the Scottish festival model for New Haven. Throughout the month I was fortunate to meet, and explore ideas with, many organisations and individuals in New Haven who work in the arts, mental health and social justice.

What I found was an exciting community of artists and activists determined to have a social impact. From the high-profile New Haven Festival of Arts and Ideas, Artreach’s community programme, and the high school-led Word Poetry Slam, through to the in-patient arts festival at Connecticut Mental Health Centre, there were innovative examples of using art to create social change and promote recovery.

The opportunity to spend time at Yale University, working with the Programme for Recovery and Community Health provided an important opportunity to share and build knowledge more broadly. In their own words, the organisation promotes the recovery, self-determination, and inclusion of people experiencing psychiatric disability, addiction, and discrimination through focusing on their strengths and the valuable contributions they have to make to their communities.

In practice the team was very inclusive, passionate about what they do and welcoming and generous with their time. Being able to exchange knowledge with and develop new ideas with them was very important for the work that we do in the UK and has created lasting partnerships and friendships. 

During the visit we were involved in the planning and delivery of the International Recovery and Citizenship Council (IRCC) Symposium. The event brought together an international group of experts to discuss topics related to recognition, recovery, and citizenship, with the aim of moving from thinking and planning to action.

The event was motivating, with discussion and debate from a diverse group of people around the topics. Many of the international visitors led and contributed to discussions and workshops – I chaired a panel exploring the theory recognition in relation to lived experience and Amal and I facilitated a workshop that explored the arts and mental health, allowing participants to think of creative solutions to some of the issues raised.
We will be visiting the Programme for Recovery and Community Health again in New Haven next year for a month and are currently working with new colleagues and partners on an exciting programme of arts and events for the visit. We also look forward to welcoming colleagues from the partnership, including PRCH, to Glasgow in October 2017, as we host the next IRCC Symposium. 

Watch this space!

The Mental Health Foundation runs the Scottish Mental Health, Arts and Film Festival in October every year. The festival is now in its tenth year, find out more about this year’s events.