Art, Language and Mental Health Admissions
A new anthology Admissions: Voices in Mental Healthwas recently released as part of Mental Health Week 2022 (October 2-8) in partnership with Red Room Poetry. Edited by David Stavanger, Radhiah Chowdury and Mohammad Awad, it promises to expand the parameters around mental health discourse by focusing on contributors with lived experience, in all their diversity and complexity. (The editors repeat that “everything on these pages is someone’s truth.”)
Emphasis is also placed on inclusivity in terms of contributors and style. To that end, of the 103 entries, there are both well-known names (including plays by Christine Anu, Grace Tame, Evelyn Araluen, Ali Cobby Eckermann and Anna Spargo-Ryan and Omar Sakr) as well as 30 writers emerging.
Although the emphasis is on poetry, there are also essays, short fiction and illustrations.
The anthology provides a platform for voices that have otherwise been marginalized or stereotyped and aims to destigmatize mental illness.
As the introduction to the book states, Admissions is guided by “the ways in which art and language can atone for suffering”. Art as liberation, art as relief, art as recovery, remission, remediation. Group therapy at the individual and community level.
Stavanger, one of Admissionpublishers who also provides his own poem inside, told ArtsHub that he wanted to publish this book for a long time.
“I’ve been running workshops in this space for several years now, drawing on my former life as a psychologist and my and my family’s direct experience of mental ‘illness’ and the interactions we’ve had with the private and public health. system, as well as my deep love of poetry and underlying interest in the intersection of these threads,” says Stavanger.
“I also produced the crazy poetry project at Red Room Poetry for the past three years, having been part of this movement born in Illawarra in 2016 based on MAD Pride and the recovery of institutional language and destigmatizing labels using the most immediate and the most distilled we have.
Regarding the title of the book itself, Stavanger said that after much consideration, the editors chose a word that fits well with the content “and also what is required of anyone within this system. , as well as the obvious fact that many of us were literally allowed or coerced.
ArtsHub also reached out to a few other contributors to Admissions to tell us a bit about their work.
‘My poem People are dying in isolation rooms refers to news stories from 2017 about Miriam Merten, who died in an Australian psychiatric hospital isolation room in 2014. This poem also references my own experience of isolation rooms from 2011 and is one of the poems the most intense I have ever written.
Performing this piece leaves me exhausted. But so much injustice simmers in Australia’s mental health system and I wanted those words to be heard.
“Advocacy through poetry is powerful because our stories are finally being told on our own terms – stories that nurses and doctors can’t take away, no matter how hard they scribble their one-sided notes of” Authority” in patient hospital records.”
‘How to be happy? Surely that’s a question on many people’s minds, especially in a time when mental health crises are popping up alongside a murky landscape with self-help and wellness advice, and references to being “unbalanced”, “disturbed” and “crazy” are often invoked superficially. .
“My contribution to Admissions solves this, but not in a way you’d expect. In the short experimental essay, I wanted to give readers a taste of how one would inhabit the world in a video game, except that world happens to be my brain, and at a distance.
Mental health is above all an individual and societal problem, with no factor having more weight than another. Like an axis, they often work in tandem, in this nebulous soup of genetics and how one is perceived in the world. The rest follows.
“My essay is an attempt to use the self as an anchor to provide a mirror to others, to open up broader conversations about mental health issues that are often difficult to unravel and don’t happen in a vacuum. That’s what the anthology hopes to interrogate, and I’m honored to be part of that chorus.
“Over the past few years I have been involved in advocacy in the area of domestic violence and have found that there is still little awareness of the difficulty of healing from violence and abuse. Although I am candid about my own trauma and recovery process, I find that there are persistent taboos around counseling and other forms of therapy that continue to prevent people from recognizing and overcoming their trauma. .
“Having attended a wonderful retreat last year run by an organization called Hope and Heal, I knew I wanted to write a creative non-fiction article about this experience and how it challenged me to thinking about my mental health in new and creative ways.
I wanted to emphasize the connection between mind and body, because we often talk about them as separate components rather than an integrated system.
I also wanted to keep in mind the political and spiritual factors that shape mental health and recovery, and the marvelous ability of the brain to engage in its own healing process.
Let’s hope for a
‘My poem Flesh is a moment from my childhood. A recognition of pain and power. Of a person’s actions, consequences, and the blossoming of a life worth loving with compassion. The poet Melanie Mununggurr inspired me to write about the five senses, and what spewed onto the page is what we have here. A healing moment of joyous rage and growth into a strong woman and a beatboxer.
Stavanger is optimistic about the long-term scope of Admissions: “We hope this anthology will pass and offer something new in documenting and writing about mental health and poetry as a form. There are some very experimental writers here, many of whom are perhaps underestimated or considered foreign artists within the wider literary community, people like Anthony Mannix, Wart and Sandy Jeffs.
“I love knowing that they are more widely read as part of this and that this book has a place for anyone, regardless of their background or experience. It’s a door we can all open and should never close.