Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ireland's first arts festival dedicated to promoting mental-health awareness opens in Dublin

From The Irish Times:

The country's first arts festival dedicated to promoting mental-health awareness has opened in Dublin with a wide range of music, film, theatre and more promised over the next two weeks.

A number of specially commissioned art works have been created to coincide with the start of First Fortnight 2012, which takes place in and around Temple Bar.

The festival is being staged in association with See Change, a Government-backed initiative that seeks to challenge discrimination on mental health issues, and is sponsored by the Ticket .

Among the highlights of the festival programme is a concert with Cashier No 9, Le Galaxie and Royseven, whose single We Should Be Lovers was the most-played Irish single on radio here last year.

Other highlights include a series of new short films from directors such as Hugh O'Connor and Mary Redmond, a number of visual art and photography exhibitions and two performances of 565+ , a play which tells the story of how one woman sought solace in the theatre when struggling with depression.

The two-week festival programme begins tonight with the first of three 'Therapy Sessions’ which feature a mix of poetry and spoken word performances accompanied by live music from acts including the Delorentos and We Cut Corners.

First Fortnight is a volunteer-based project which began with a one-day event in 2010. The project is so named because the first two weeks of the year is a period that is generally perceived to be a particularly difficult time for those suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts.

The project's founder JP Swaine said he was hopeful the festival's programme would entice people to come along and take part.

"We hope people come to First Fortnight because this is a genuinely high-quality programme of arts events. That way we hope they will go into the year ahead touched by a really strong message about reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health and hopefully go forward with some confidence into 2012 to be the change they want to see,” he said.

A showing of the acclaimed documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston will take place at the IFI on Saturday as part of the festival. Johnson, a musician and artist, who has had an ongoing struggle with manic depression, has shown his support for the event by making one of his artworks available for use as a limited-edition once-off festival T-shirt.

Almost one-quarter of Irish people have personal experience of mental illness or a suicide in their peer group, according to the recently published Global Health Survey 2011. However, many individuals experience widespread prejudice with an Amnesty Ireland survey showing that 95 per cent of people who have mental health problems said they have been treated unfairly because of their condition.

See Change campaign manager Kahlil Thompson-Coyle said she was hopeful the festival would become a regular event.

"We're hoping that we can make the first two weeks of the year synonymous with breaking down the stigma associated with mental health problems and show that it's okay to not be okay sometimes."