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PROactive Management of Integrated

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Open Arts is a community arts and mental health project run as one of the charities managed within the South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (SEPT). Our main activity is the provision of community-based introductory arts courses during which participants are introduced to wider opportunities, culminating in a six-month studio placement option for course graduates. Our project aim is; “Enabling well-being and recovery through creativity and community engagement”. The project is open to anyone across South Essex with a mental health need including carers.

Participants consistently report improvements in their wellbeing, social inclusion, confidence, skills and motivation. The success of our work so far is evidenced through evaluation and research published in peer-reviewed academic journals. An evaluation which South Essex Service User Research Group (SE-SURG) carried out with the studio members and course participants found that:

“All ratings of enjoyment and gains in art skills, confidence and motivation were positive. Over 90% of participants reported feeling more positive and that their wellbeing had been maintained. 80% felt that their relationships with other people had improved as a result of the studio placement.”

Please visit our website www.openartsessex.com

What thoughts and feelings did reading Navigating Rocky Waters evoke?

Ed Dixon felt partly excited at the prospect of being involved but this was tinged with some anxiety about how to interpret the ideas and he was pleased when he managed to come up with something. He also expressed concerns about approach to mental health care underlying the narrative. For Linda Elliot it reminded her of the sea and she saw how it worked as a metaphor for life’s problems. She identified with idea of life being a journey that is fraught with difficulties and problems that somehow have to be solved.

Sue Richardson also connected with Navigating Rocky Waters and felt that it captures what it means to be unwell. From her perspective it equated with her experience of trying to get through each day when you don’t know how you are going to feel emotionally and what challenges lie ahead. Sue feels that along the way there are ‘beacons’ to help you on your journey. These include Open Arts, support groups, professionals and family.

As carers, Kay Wright and Lorraine Fell could also identify with Navigating Rocky Waters. For Kay it reminded her of her own journey with all the desperate emotions that it entails, such as frustration, anxiety, guilt, resentment, sadness in dealing with the 'loss' of my loved one to mental illness. In Lorraine’s case reading about Navigating Rocky Waters evoked thoughts and feelings of the turmoil that her son’s illness causes. She related to it as a means trying to keep herself afloat whilst steering him in the right direction.

How did it feel to be part of the project?

Ed Dixon was excited by the possibility that something he’d done might make a contribution to the project. Anna Rolf was also excited by the idea that the pictures were going to be published on the PROMISE website, as she’s never had anything published before. Janine Fairbrother on the other-hand was pleased to be included in the project because it increased her confidence. Lorraine Fell felt honoured to be taking part as it gave her a voice by using the power of art to express how she feels.

Sue Richardson also felt privileged to be involved in the project and the prospect of sharing her work and seeing the work produced by the others artists. For Kay Wright it was more the hope that other carers will be encouraged to take part to help them through the maze of mental illness. Both Linda Elliot and Jackie Shorter were pleased to be involved in such an important project and recognised how it could benefit Open Arts members on their Recovery journeys.

What part does art play in your recovery journey?

Sue Richardson described how art continues to play a huge part in recovery journey. Whilst concentrating on her artwork she can totally immerse her thoughts on the piece she’s creating and all other thoughts and problems are gone. Her creativity also enables her to go wherever she wants to and be whatever she wants.

Ed Dixon similarly felt that getting involved with painting enabled him to block out all the other worries and hassles of life for a while. He recognised how coming to the studio kept him connected and the benefits this brings, even if sometimes it produced difficulties. Meeting people was important to Linda Elliot too. She felt art is the very best way of helping people with their mental health problems and that it boosts self-esteem.

Jackie Shorter mentioned how art helps her to be distracted and enables her to relax, regardless of the medium being used. For Kay Wright it was painting water colour pictures that has helped her to cope with the emotions of the roller coaster ride of caring for someone with on-going mental health issues. It helps her to relax because it distracts her from her problems. It has also helped to boost her confidence and raised her self-esteem. Janine Fairbrother also mentioned how art had enhanced her confidence and how the activity made her less nervous. Anna Rolfe feels that art plays a huge part in her Recovery journey because it gives her something to focus on and look forward too. Having the opportunity to share problems with others in the group was also important to her.

In Lorraine Fell’s case art has helped her to recover from the stress of being a carer by focussing on being creative and it has given her the freedom to express herself. Engaging with art gives her feeling of positivity, confidence and a sense of achievement. Like many of the other artists she feels less isolated and also more respected.

Open Arts - Navigating Rocky Waters

Download the PDF

Recovery Orientated Practice - Practice with backbone and heart -  Dr Anne Markwick (Download PDF)

Watch the film (4 minutes 28 seconds)