Creative Dundee

Blog: Mental Health in an Unequal World

A new community art exhibition called There's Is One Thing ... by local arts and mental health charity Art Angel. Working in partnership with gallery Generator Projects, Art Angel has been able to take over the former New Look store in the Wellgate Centre to exhibit art created by its participants
Photograph by Alan Richardson

Following World Mental Health Day, this blog will highlight three organisations in Dundee that have demonstrated a commitment to the wellbeing of others, finding ways to stay creative, and using imagination to connect away from the boundaries of everyday life.

World Mental Health Day was on 10 October, to continue the conversation we will be featuring Wellbeing Works, Feeling Strong and Art Angel. Three local organisations that work hard to support people and promote a collective vision of a healthier, more compassionate, stigma-free world.

The theme of World Mental Health Day 2021 was mental health in an unequal world. Reflecting on the challenging times we are living through, you would be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate theme. Particularly considering the pandemic and the way it has publicly unearthed the deep roots of inequality in our society. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that those who have been knocked down have access to the means to cope and get back on their feet.

Previously known as Dundee Association for Mental Health, Wellbeing Works has been providing support and services for the people of Dundee for more than 50 years. Based in the Wellgate Centre and run by a small team, the charity provides support through 1-1 and group activities that are proactive and positive. Helping people to “stay well, become less isolated, be more confident, connect with other people and have things to look forward to.”

We spoke with Director, Wendy Callander, about the recently opened Community Toolbox. For a small membership fee, you can borrow anything from a fondue set to a fold-out bed. Echoing successful tool library models from around Europe, Wellbeing Works are taking it a step further, providing an inventory that caters to a number of needs. They not only make an array of tools accessible, but they also encourage a green ethos, leisure time, and looking after ourselves and our homes.

It’s not just about supporting mental health, it’s about stopping things going into landfill, making environmentally conscious lifestyles more accessible and trying to promote a bit of sharing and caring.

Wendy Callander, Director of Wellbeing Works

The Toolbox also has a workshop where volunteers can teach people how to use items from the library, whether they want to hang up a picture, upcycle household items or have a go at some arts and crafts. To support the Community Toolbox and the incredible services, you can buy a Pay It Forward membership to gift to a friend or stranger.

Formed in 2018, Feeling Strong aims to “improve the lives of young people living with mental health and wellbeing challenges by fostering the skills, confidence and aspirations they need to flourish.” Feeling Strong offers support for young people aged 12 – 26 and is open to people who live, work or study in Dundee.

Their services are designed and delivered by young people, for young people, and take many forms of support including peer listening, skill development and peer mentoring. These services are supported by a dedicated team of experienced trustees and enthusiastic volunteers.

We caught up with Recovery & Support Coordinator, Conor McConville, about the weekly sessions on offer that encourage creativity and connectivity through arts and crafts. Art and photography nights are open and inclusive to any level of skill—they’re a relaxed invitation to learn with a mixture of structured activities, such as still life drawing and open sessions that encourage free use of materials to explore individual projects. Becoming a member is free if you want to get involved.

All of the third sector services in Dundee are under an incredible amount of pressure, but it’s just about finding creative ways to relieve that pressure and help as many young people as we can.

Conor McConville, Recovery & Support Coordinator for Feeling Strong

Art Angel Art Angel has provided local people with mental health support through creative activities for over 25 years. Originally part of Dundee Rep Theatre’s community company, they support people in getting and staying well through long-term active participation in the arts.

Art Angel is “run for and by people with lived experience of mental ill-health,” accommodating people aged 16 and over through art, photography and creative writing groups. With a belief in individual decision making about mental health, Art Angel’s sessions not only prioritise listening over observation, but they also provide consistency and longevity in support that state services simply cannot.

Art Angel’s community reach was evidenced in a recent takeover of the GENERATORprojects Wellgate Centre pop-up exhibition space. There is one thing…..  was an energetic display of over 100 works by participants including sculpture, painting, photography and creative writing. Art Angel is a one-of-a-kind organisation relying on a group of wonderful volunteers to keep it going. If you have time and skills to share, get in touch to get involved—or you can support them and their activities with a donation.

We regularly see people begin to take responsibility for their own lives; taking decisions based on hope, which benefit not only themselves but all of their friends, family and communities in which they live.

Art Angel Website

Wellbeing Works, Feeling Strong and Art Angel each cater to a diverse range of mental health experiences and are testimony to the value of care, generosity and creativity as methods of coping. Above all, they are safe spaces, away from the chaos of life and are led by some incredible role models who operate without prejudice, only with good intentions to support and nurture the wellbeing of their participants.

Similarly, there are many more organisations in Dundee that endeavour to ensure that the conversation on mental health is not a one-off. Although this small selection is non-exhaustive, it is evident that these organisations are sowing seeds of compassion and care that will eventually flourish into blooms of resilience and mutual wellbeing.

In the wake of the injustices caused by the pandemic, the theme of mental health in an unequal world must be sustained. When it comes to mental health we should always ask, Whose voices continue to be silenced? How can we ensure conversations are inclusive? How can we support those who are doing the work? And, ultimately, how can we level the playing-field?

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