More than 200 people turned up at the 107 arts space to listen to live music, learn about mental illness, and admire the artworks created by art workshop participants and available for purchase. The younger ones could entertain themselves with games, as a pinball machine, and table hockey had been set up for them. The speakers were introduced by The Sapphires actress Shari Sebbens, who lent her growing profile to the cause by becoming a Weave ambassador.
Janelle Ghazi, team leader for Speak Out, says: “There is still not a lot of education about what’s good mental health, it’s definitely getting better, but there’s always room for improvement.” She says that young people who experience mental health concerns, like depression and anxiety, often turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and try to cope with their symptoms. But even those who are aware of their illness and try to seek help still face obstacles, financial ones for example. “There’re not enough psychiatrists who bulk-bill around here, so that’s very hard,” she says. “If there weren’t structures like Weave providing art workshops, it would also be harder for young people to make art, as art supplies and materials are costly.”
Shane Brown, Weave’s Director, spoke to the packed room about how far we’ve come in regards to how mental health issues are considered by society, even though people are still reluctant to talk about it for fear of being rejected by their peers. He gave the example of homosexuality, which only just a few decades ago was still considered a personality disorder that could be cured with therapy, even electroshock treatments. Thankfully, mental illness is better understood and accepted these days, even if it still encounters stigmatisation, and Shane underlined the fact that there are now lots of ways to deal with mental health conditions other than by medication, for example by eating well, physical exercise, art activities etc.
Shane Brown said that the wider community doesn’t understand how debilitating living with a mental illness can be, therefore it is important to take the time to learn about the stories of young people who’ve suffered from it to get a better understanding. “People are people, and a mental health diagnosis is a way of understanding a mental health problem, that’s all, not a label to describe that person. We are people and some people have a mental health issue – they are not the problem,” he said.
Kathryn Courts, a young woman who has herself battled depression and anorexia as a teenager, shared her experience with the audience and encouraged young people to seek help. “There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re a good person, it doesn’t impact on who you are as a person. […] Despite how bad things may feel at one time or another, it doesn’t have to stay that way. There are so many people who you don’t even know yet, who can help you feel better.”
Cecil Kroon, 46, was one of the artists whose work, “The Dancer”, was exhibited on the night. Kroon has been suffering from an acute eye condition, which he has found difficult to handle. A few months ago, his condition started to affect him emotionally as well and he had to be hospitalised. Kroon then got involved in the art project thanks to his occupational therapists at Concord Hospital and he is now recovered and back in the community. “It’s helped me meet other artists. It’s given me some self appreciation, some means of communication with other people, means of sharing what’s in your mind, also being able to capture moments or thoughts, and to me that’s what painting is all about,” Kroon explained.
Karissa Dobjansuy, 19, has never taken an art class in her life but has painted since she was a little girl. She was hospitalised recently for depression and schizophrenia and then brought into the project by her case worker. “It pushed me back a bit, but I started to express how I felt about that period of time through my artwork. It did help me.” She says she feels much better now and intends to commence studies in art soon. She hopes she can exhibit her work again for next year’s Mad Pride.
Mad Pride events are held all over the world during Mental Health Month. Janelle Ghazi is delighted with the success of this year’s Sydney Mad Pride: “Everyone helped, offered their time, and it made the night a success. It wouldn’t have been what it was without the people volunteering their time and that was what made the celebration special.”