Arts and mental health programme “saved my life”

Health / Tue 12th Dec 2023 at 12:35pm

AN artist who credits a community arts and mental health programme with saving her life is now helping other people boost their wellbeing through creativity.

Allie Watson worked in retail management for 27 years and had a fast paced job training 100 managers.

But she had to give up the job she loved after she became ill and needed brain surgery, which affected her memory.

She then suffered severe nerve damage in her dominate arm after undergoing other surgery. She also faced bereavement following the sudden death of a loved one.

Allie was hit hard by facing all of these combined within a short space of time.

“I went from an outgoing, self-confident manager to someone who couldn’t leave the house,” she said.

Allie had a breakdown and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder. She spent ten months at an inpatient ward in London, then began receiving support from our Southend Community Mental Health Team, where she found out about Open Arts.

Open Arts is a community arts and mental health programme, which helps to manage mental health and wellbeing through creativity.

It is managed within the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust Charity Fund and runs courses, workshops and events. These are led by professional artists and supported by volunteers.

Open Arts supports people with their recovery and develops their confidence, self-esteem and self-identity. It also helps them feel part of their wider community.

Allie said: “I can’t say enough about Open Arts. I would go as far as saying it saved my life.

“Because I went to it at a time when I was feeling really low and I didn’t see a point in living and having a place in society.

“Being there, I felt perhaps maybe I have a place in society and maybe there was a point in being there and there were other people I could talk to who understood.

“It’s made such a difference to my life. It’s absolutely saved my life and that’s not an overstatement.

“We need to get art on prescription.”

At her first session, she was worried she wouldn’t be able to do anything because she had lost the use of her fingers in her dominant hand.

But Open Arts manager Jo Keay reassured her it would not be a problem, and that’s how Allie found she had a talent for collage.

“Since I had left work, my self-esteem and confidence had been absolutely on the floor,” she said.

“But suddenly there was something that was giving me a lift and I could go and achieve something.

“It was the first time since work that I felt there was a point of living. That’s a strong reason why I decided to volunteer for Open Arts.

“As I went down the road of my recovery, I wanted to help other people as I have been helped.”

Allie supports participants on the 12-week courses and although the programme focuses on creativity rather than mental health she said there is always someone they can speak to privately if they need to.

She has found the informal and welcoming atmosphere has helped her own wellbeing and that art calms her down when she is struggling.

“It almost feels like you go into an art cocoon and nothing is going to get to you and you’re going to be okay,” she said.

“No-one is going to judge you or think any worse of you. Everyone just accepts you for who you are.”

Allie’s art explores subjects that are personal to her. ‘The Body’ is a detailed life-size artwork made from textiles, which addresses body image and hidden illnesses that people cannot see from the outside. 

“It made me appreciate my body in a different way and how it has coped with a lot over the years,” she said.

The piece was exhibited in an international exhibition.

Beach huts and helter skelters also feature in a number of pieces as the seafront was her safe space when she was a child.

In addition to volunteering for Open Arts, Allie is a member of the EPUT Buddy Scheme and has a lived experience education role, where she uses her life experience to help students and newly qualified staff from a range of clinical professions better understand the needs of people living with mental and physical health conditions.

Read more about Allie’s work at https://tornpaperpieces.com/

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1 Comment for Arts and mental health programme “saved my life”:

2023-12-12 16:05:04

That's great this has helped her, mfntal health recovery is so much more than medication. However, it appears to be based in Hadleigh, why is it in Your Harlow unless a similar project is offered here. No details are provided

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