Jon, April 16, 2020

We wanted to give people with experience of mental health problems a platform to tell their stories

I started my journey with Time to Change when I signed up as a Champion in 2018. As someone who's experienced mental health problems in my family and first-hand, I wanted to do my bit to raise awareness.

A few years ago I attended an event about OCD and intrusive thoughts. I was inspired by the organiser, Liz, and her approach to storytelling. I went over to introduce myself at the end and we got talking about how powerful it could be to further explore mental health through performance art. We wanted to give people with experience of mental health problems a platform to tell their stories and simultaneously reach an audience who wouldn’t normally hear them.

Together, with our friend Maria, we started to plan a new collaborative series of shows under the same title; What's Going On In Your Head?. Each show has a theme that ties into different mental health diagnosis, led by creatives who share their experiences through poetry, music and other performances.

The live shows were a great success, with a large audience filling the room to the brim and many performers sharing their talent or stories for the first time. We were planning for the next show in March but as the date drew closer and talk of isolation increased we realised that sadly the show couldn’t go ahead.

Like many, when news of coronavirus hit I started to struggle with my mental health. I became scared that the people I loved would fall ill or run out of food. My work started to dry up and before I knew it this side project was starting to become my only project. Liz, Maria and I had been supporting each other throughout the first weeks of isolation and working together was a welcome distraction. We couldn’t put the show on in the way we had originally intended, but we were still determined to make it work somehow.

For so many people this is still a very anxiety inducing time. Our performers had their shows cancelled, and like us they also wanted to use their time in isolation to help others, so we adapted the live shows to be hosted online.

The theme of our first online show was isolation, and it featured a variety of performers, some new and some well-established. Working online presented new challenges – planning on WhatsApp and rehearsing on Zoom – but it also posed new opportunities. Unlike the live physical shows our audience could comment on the performances and ask questions in the moment through the chat function. The theme was isolation but the audience and performers said they felt a sense of connection. 

Once the show ended, I got the same sense of achievement and pride as I get when we close a physical show. I managed, if only briefly, to think about something other than coronavirus, as did some of our audience and performers.

The best piece of advice I can give to other campaigners who might be looking to organise something during this period is not to measure your success by others. There are so many online streams at the moment.

Initially I worried that if we didn’t get thousands of people watching it wouldn’t be worth it. However, I’ve since realised it’s not just about connecting with your audience, it’s also about connecting with the people involved. We successfully challenged perceptions of mental health, but we also empowered our performers.

The feedback we had from the audience and performers was just incredible. With comments saying it was an uplifting, inspiring and touching evening. I feel the night really helped everyone's mental health and even encouraged others to put on other online events.

Finally, my last bit of advice would be to give yourself plenty of time to plan for the unexpected and do a rehearsal beforehand. Technology can be tricky, but it can also be a great enabler. There’s some great free resources out there and lots of information about how to use them. 

We’d welcome anyone interested in performing or watching any of our free shows to find out how they can do so on our website.

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.