As World Mental Health Day approaches, Michael Alexander speaks to a Dundee charity about the increased demand for mental health services during the Covid-19 pandemic while at the same time it celebrates positivity in the community.
As the World Health Organisation prepares for World Mental Health Day on October 10, there’s no doubt peoples’ lives have changed considerably as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Demand for mental health and psychosocial support is on the rise, and that’s why, after years of chronic underfunding, the goal of this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign is increased investment in mental health.
Now, in a bid to get more people talking about their feelings and their struggles, a Dundee father-of-three, who spent four years in foster care and has battled mental health challenges since early childhood, is speaking out about how he’s used music and creativity as a means of coping.
Marcus Balfour, 24, is taking part in a series of online events organised by Dundee charity Front Lounge.
As part of an event on Monday October 5, Front Lounge showcased a song written and performed by Marcus during lockdown, the video of which was created by Nathan Inatimi.
‘Not All Doom and Gloom’ was penned as Marcus watched his children play in his garden during the peak of the restrictions in the spring.
“Despite the downbeat title, it’s really about my love for my children,” Marcus said.
“I didn’t really know what love was until I became a dad and they bring me much joy.
“The song was a way of putting my feelings into words in a way they can hopefully understand when they’re older. I really hope it has a lasting effect on them.”
Marcus, who now works as a care experienced advisor for a Dundee charity, said music has been a huge part of his life from a very young age and it definitely helped when he was going through some serious trauma.
He describes it as a “coping mechanism” – especially when he had some major anger issues.
“The guitar helped during my roughest times, when I was in care,” he said.
“Sometimes I had no one to talk to, and it really helped get my emotions out, helped me process them. The guitar was like having someone to speak to.”
Marcus went on to write ‘countless’ songs over lockdown.
He said it might seem like an over-reaction but to him music is his “saviour” and he thinks he created his best music over lockdown.
But Marcus has a positive message to anyone else out there who is struggling.
“Communication is the key, the first step,” he said.
“There is always someone who feels like you. The prospect of opening up might make you feel incredibly anxious but, as soon as you start to open up, the anxiety levels drop. There’s always hope!”
Front Lounge project leader Chika Inatimi has been engaged in a national conversation about the ‘scourge’ of mental health through Foolish Optimism – a ground-breaking film and national roadshow that aimed to ‘puncture the silence’ on talking about mental health issues – as reported by The Courier in 2019.
He said mental health services had been in “crisis” for some time with demand exceeding supply.
What’s happened during the unprecedented times of lockdown, however, is a “light has been shone” on resource issues and the deficit that remains.
“Never before have we as a society been so acutely aware of how we are feeling,” he said.
“I think what lockdown did is it exacerbated an issue that was already there but it also pushed people who you might regard as fine into crisis.
“All the certainties of life have been taken away and all the normal places that people would normally get support had restricted access or were shut – you couldn’t even go to the doctors normally.
“What we’ve seen is an acceleration of demand as a consequence.”
Chika said “governments do what governments do” in such circumstances.
He remains concerned that despite living in one of the world’s richest societies, so many people remain part of an “underclass” that is “disempowered and disenfranchised”.
But one of the “most amazing” aspects of lockdown was the goodwill and community spirit aspect that didn’t want to see anyone left behind.
“Lockdown has highlighted deficits and shown what human nature is capable of if we decide,” he added.
“But I think the great fear now is that as things become better – even if we are not quite sure when that will be – things will simply go back to how things were.
“In the small reality of things, many of the folk who use our services have struggled.
“But when we talk about ‘big things’, there’s a movement saying that we can’t go back to how things were – that we have to use this opportunity to re-engineer our society somehow. Time will tell!”
Front Lounge has been engaged in successful projects including Hope Box – distributing art materials to targeted young families and single households to improve mental health.
Chika is also very proud that the Kindred Clothing project – a hands-on clothes-making course aimed at young parents – also managed to continue online during lockdown.
Front Lounge wants to continue having a conversation about lockdown – and also celebrate the “cool things” happening in communities – through its World Mental Health Day events.
On October 5, Art Drop, which included the launch of Marcus Balfour’s song, aimed to spread positivity and bring creativity into the community by dropping art around different locations in Dundee which can then be picked up and enjoyed.
Then on October 10, ‘Hope Hub: A Socially Distanced Conversation’ will discuss the need to connect and how mental health issues have been made worse by both the pandemic and the lockdown restrictions.
The event will also discuss food poverty and how access to technology can be provided to everyone regardless of economic background.
For more information go to https://www.facebook.com/frontlounge.org/