How is creativity shaping Sunderland’s mental health services?

At Sunderland Culture, we believe that creative activities can be a great way of looking after ourselves, and in these difficult times, taking part in arts and culture feels more important than ever. That’s why, over the past year, we’ve collated together a selection of creative ideas, stories, videos and workshops from artists and organisations from across the city, and it’s why we work with brilliant partners like Washington Mind.

Jenny Carter, the Creative Lead for Washington Mind’s Young People’s Project, explores the idea of creativity as self-care, and the importance of working with young people to shape mental health services in Sunderland.

I was fifteen years old when I first accessed a mental health service, but I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember.

It’s what I do on bad days. I rattle words out onto the page and type until my fingers hurt, even if it only makes sense to me. Sometimes it’s stories I can hide in, or a diary entry about how hard things are, but all I know is that it helps. It feels like an instinctive thing I can do to externalise however I’m feeling, almost as though putting pen to paper takes the heaviness away.

I was nineteen years old when I told a room full of health professionals that writing was the best therapist I’ve ever had, and now I get to put that creativity into the work I do at Washington Mind. We offer free counselling to young people in and around Sunderland, but recognise that might not always work for everyone, and you can’t know what young people need without asking them. And when we have asked them, we get a lot of the same answers – the medical model isn’t always useful, and being creative is good self care.

A photograph focusing on a table covered with art materials and refreshments, with the hands of the people sitting around the table doing craft activities

This idea now shapes a lot of what we offer. At Washington Mind’s Young People’s Project, we are creating a service with young people, not just for young people. Thanks to support from The Kavli Trust, we are exploring loneliness and how being creative can help tackle it with our project You’re Not Alone, which is led by young people in Sunderland.

Woven bracelets, stickers, leaflets and zines on a table

We’ve also been running creative workshops and making zines with our collective strange things? since 2017. Providing that space for people to explore those feelings is valuable, but also highlights what is actually important to our youth, because when you ask young people to share in a way they are comfortable with, be that through art, photography or creative writing, they’ll make something personal and significant to them. The first publication we made through strange things? covered so many moving themes, from artwork about assault to an essay on racism in a local school.

Being creative gives us a chance to express our feelings and reflect on them, it feels natural and makes sense. That’s why we work with organisations like Sunderland Culture, but also why we take our counselling services out into the community in art and music spaces, like Pop Recs in Sunderland.

Using the arts and instinctive creative skills to keep ourselves well is something I think we’ve all done at one time or another, and building on that idea to shape our mental health services is hopefully another step toward providing inclusive, accessible support, and ensuring no young person in Sunderland has to face their problems alone.

Find out more about Washington Mind’s Young People’s Project:

Twitter – @ypwashmind

Instagram – @youngpeoplesproject