Creativity, Mental Health and Wellbeing

Throughout the summer, our teams from Sunderland Culture, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, National Glass Centre and Arts Centre Washington have been working together with local artists to offer a summer programme of activities for families.

We’ve been encouraging families to head outdoors and to get creative. We know that these are great ways of looking after ourselves in times of difficulty and stress.

Today’s blog by Katie Mitchell and Posy Jowett encourages us to explore ideas around navigating the unfamiliar, working through change and uncertainty, and expressing our feelings.

We know that creativity is really useful for thinking through difficult ideas, and can help us to cope and manage during harder times. Below are some of the ways in which you can look after yourself and your loved ones.

Dealing with Uncertainty

2020 has brought a lot of uncertainty into our lives – when we’ll see each other again, when we’ll ‘return to normal’, when our communities, schools and workplaces will reopen again… the list goes on. Small steps can help to limit the overwhelm and make it feel more manageable.

  • Focus on what you can control There will always be elements of the day-to-day that are out of our control, whether the daily commute, being late for school, or emergencies at work. This year, there seem to be more things than ever that we can’t control, so maintain perspective on what is within your control and work to accept what you cannot change.

Kathy Prendergast’s work, ‘Land’ (above), inspired us to think about how we can look at things from different perspectives and about places that can make us feel safe.

  • Plan ‘down time’ for your mind Whether a walk in the park, watching a much-loved film, or spending time in the kitchen baking with your family. Putting a plan in place for something you enjoy on a regular basis will help to ease the feelings of navigating ‘the great unknown’ and will ensure something positive is in the diary.

We took inspiration from Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens and Mowbray Park and the Museum’s herbarium to explore green spaces and parks and to learn the stories and folklore associated with plants.

  • Be mindful and understand your triggers This could be news stories that hit close to home, hearing family members worrying or friends having a different understanding to you. Try to slow your mind down and be aware about what is challenging your mental and emotional wellbeing. Once you’re more aware of these challenges, you can take steps to manage them – avoiding the news except to catch up once a week, blocking certain words or phrases on social media, or setting personal boundaries and having conversations with those around you.
Coping with Change

A large part of coping with change is about focussing on, and being mindful of, what we can control, and putting things in place to help manage change in a healthy and positive way. This could be making time to take your mind off the change by drawing, going for walks, or taking time out for a hobby. It could also be ensuring you’ve given yourself space and time to connect with friends, family, or pets. This will help to ground you. These tools are all in our back pockets. In times of change, it’s important that we take them out and put them to use. For more about coping with change, this short family-friendly video takes a look at our individual toolkits and how these can help. For more information about being mindful of ourselves and our responses to change, take a peek at this animation.

We were inspired by Tony Cragg’s artwork ’New Stones – Newton’s Tones’, a rainbow of items collected on a walk, to go on a journey and make a collection that told the story of our adventure

(Image: New Stones – Newton’s Tones, 1978, Tony Cragg, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London, © the artist)

Feelings of depression and the anxious mind

Feeling low or anxious at times is normal and part of being human. But if we start to feel low or anxious most of the time, we need to make sure we can support ourselves as much as possible. This short video explains what anxiety is and how we react physically and mentally. Signs of depression are explained here – what to look out for and how it can manifest.

One of the best things that can be done when things feel a bit too much is to have an open conversation with a trusted family member or friend. Being open about going through a difficult time can not only relieve some of the stress but also provide you with a support system. If there isn’t anyone close to you for this conversation, Childline and Samaritans could be able to help support (details below).

To help yourself through this time, it’s important to treat yourself as you would treat a friend who’s feeling the same – be kind and be gentle with yourself. It’s completely reasonable to feel difficult feelings when trying to process everything that’s happened over the last few months. Look after the basics as much as possible – give yourself some structure with sleep and active time away from screens. Connect with people you know as much as possible.

Apps that can offer support during times when we are experiencing low mood or anxious thoughts include Silver Cloud and Whats Up (available on Android and Apple). To facilitate conversations, Blurt has a collection of resources to help us to talk about what we’re going through and understand how to support one another.


This content and the advice provided has been authored by a Mental Health First Aider and Samaritans volunteer. Mental Health First Aid training delivered by Washington Mind (2020) and Samaritans training delivered by Sunderland branch of Samaritans (2019).

If you feel like talking and need a listening ear, there are organisations to help if you aren’t comfortable speaking to those close to you. Samaritans can be reached 24 hours a day every day by calling 116 123, or by email, [email protected].

Childline is available to support children and young people under the age of 19 with anything they’re going through and can be reached by calling 0800 1111 or via confidential email through their website.

Children, young people and adults can also access support for a range of issues by contacting Shout via text to 85258.


Part of our family summer activity inspired by artworks from the Arts Council Collection.

Image: Kathy Prendergast, Land, 1990. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © the artist.