Mental health is a national issue and Leeds is no different. Caleb Staples talked to performers and organisers in Leeds about how spoken word is being used to get people talking in their local area.
Bethany Rose, 26, performing her piece ‘Trigger Warning’ at the poetry event in October. Credit: Santia Ahmed (@santiahara on Instagram)
ABOVE the hustle and bustle of LS6 café on Headingly Lane a woman stands on stage, her legs imprinted with the words ‘I AM ENOUGH’. She shares a letter to herself entitled ‘Dear Body’, a letter that though dealing with subjects of depression and self-harm is enjoyed by a room full of people. A room full of local young people all fighting for their right to good mental healthcare through a poetry event hosted by Our Minds Our Future.
Our Minds Our Future (OMOF) is the flagship campaign of Make Our Rights Reality; a national movement of young people co-ordinated by Youth Access which aims to ensure that young people’s rights aren’t ignored and that their needs are met.
The campaign aims to transform the current mental healthcare system for young people across the UK. Their suggested system takes a ‘rights-based approach’ to mental healthcare and argues that ‘by failing to support young people who need help, the current system is failing to respect young people’s human rights.’
Headlining at the poetry event is Bethany Rose, 26, a Leeds-based poet who stepped on stage Thursday night armed with a hardhat, clipboard and a high-vis jacket with ‘WARNING MENTAL HEALTH’ branded on the back.
The self-proclaimed ‘walking talking trigger warning’ discusses issues of love, loss and mental health through her theatrical performances of spoken word on-stage. Bethany, in her own words, has ‘always written poetry since she was an angsty teen.’
She said: “Writing poetry was a creative way of getting everything out of my head.”
Bethany hands out ‘Dear Body’ cards which have contact details for herself as well as support helplines for various mental health related issues. Credit: Bethany Rose (@bethrosewrites on Instagram)
Before she performs Bethany hands out ‘Dear Body’ cards named after one of her signature poems. One side is like any other business card with contact details and links to her social media. But, on the other side is phone numbers for various mental health support numbers like Beat, CALM and Mind.
It wasn’t until Bethany had graduated with a music degree from York St John University in 2014 that she started sharing her poetry. Being inspired by her late grandfather, who was also a poet, Bethany started to share his poetry before her own.
She said: “I performed to build confidence, knowing if I didn’t share my grandads work, it would die with him because there was no one else to perform it.”
According to the National Audit Office only 1 in 4 children and young people needing mental health care access NHS-funded services.
The idea of precare whilst on waiting lists for mental health services is part of the Our Minds Our Future petition along with age appropriate care for people aged 16-25 and accessible support in communities outside of schools and hospitals.
Bethany herself doesn’t have a lot of experiences with mental health services but believes that her story points out a problem with the current system: “I’ve been referred several times but the idea of therapy caused too much anxiety, so I never did anything about it.”
Bethany described how she, along with others, would benefit from a system that caters to those who struggle with anxiety and similar issues.
She said: “I think they should have something in place where you can talk about your concerns before you’re actually committed to it. And if you’re anxious about people does it have to be face to face? Or could you have a text or email appointment?”
Changes like these could be impactful especially in Leeds where the majority of mental health issues match the national average. According to Leeds.gov.uk in 2018 the rate of male suicide in Leeds was above the national average and still is today.
After performing at the poetry open mic event Bethany spoke about how important the awareness aspect of the campaign is to her: “We’re all aware that mental health issues exist. What we need to share is how to help, what’s useful, what the person struggling is actually struggling with – that is what we all did that night.”
Though the campaign is directed at improving mental healthcare for 16 to 25-year-olds signees of the campaign’s petition at the poetry event ranged from 19-57. This included parents, carers and individuals who work with young people.
Amber Graver, 21, hosting the event, introducing guest artists and open mic performers. Credit: Santia Ahmed (@santiahara on Instagram)
The poetry event was co-organised by Santia Ahmed, 21 and Amber Graver, 21, who are both steering group members for Our Minds Our Future. Amber said that the decision of holding a poetry event would allow the audience to hear about difficult subjects like depression, anxiety and sexual abuse.
She said: “Poetry and performance offers a unique ability of sharing a powerful message that is accessible to all.
“Throughout the night the audience were made to feel a variety of emotions from laughter to literal tears. We took them on a journey from self-destruction to self-acceptance and in-between heard about a number of difficult topics, but in this format, I really believe the messages were received and digested rather than ignored.”
Zoe Maggs, 25, is a rights advocate for Our Minds Our Future. When she isn’t reading crime fiction or writing poetry of her own, Zoe is a prominent member of Our Minds Our Future.
She said: “The campaign is about getting decision makers to recognise that everyone has a right to good mental health.
Alongside other rights advocates Zoe attended the Conservative conference in September to gain support from party members.
She said: “We hope that people consider joining us in this fight for the right to good mental health.”
The campaign wants to improve mental healthcare available to young people evidently in Leeds accessibility needs to improve. In 2018, over half of young people referrals to child/adolescent mental health services were rejected in Leeds.
This article was originally published on calebpoet.wordpress.com.
Caleb is a second-year journalism student at the University of Salford, he’s an aspiring poet and ally to the Our Minds Our Future campaign.