Slowly, slowly creativity can not only assist recovery from depression but also help dismantle the stigma attached to it.
Around the age of 28 I had slowly stopped functioning, stopped communicating and I became afraid of everything. Like the cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, but without a yellow brick road. I was in the belly of the beast, I couldn't leave the house, sometimes I would physically shake if I had to speak to someone on the phone. It got so bad that the possibility of going for a walk seemed absolutely absurd and I would spend most of the agonising day desperately longing for night so that I could hide away in the darkness.
I can only talk about depression from my own perspective, but for me when I'm in the pits of depression the last thing I feel like doing is painting a picture, writing a song or even listening to music. Not being able to enjoy those things only highlighted the part of myself that I have lost.
It was my partner that encouraged my healing process. I would wax lyrical about how disappointed I was that I wasn't creating because of my mood and he would push me to dig deeper. He is a musician and songwriter so the flat is often filled by the sound of him playing guitar or making music on his laptop. It was the combination of his patience, creative spirit and willingness to listen as I indulged in the ugly underbelly of my depression that lead to an idea to make a musical about mental health from my own personal experiences.
Nothing happens easily. Recovery from any major illness isn't easy but for me this was a eureka moment. Finally what I had been going through had purpose because I had the willingness, ambition and excitement to express my insides in a positive way.
Four years on and My Beautiful Black Dog is a piece of gig theatre about my experiences with depression. I perform the show with my partner as a two person show and it has become one of the most positive experiences of my life.
My journey got me thinking about how art, creativity, expression could help others in a similar position. I partnered up with the Wellcome Trust to deliver creative workshops for teenagers in schools who might be experiencing depression with a goal of dismantling the stigma around mental health. I suppose my healing process came from making and performing the show so a big part of the workshops has been working with teenagers to express themselves using poetry, singing, dance or even just the taking part. We found that young people's willingness to express themselves through song and poetry was overwhelming and very moving. Over the course of two hours it was noticeable how much their mood had been elevated both individually and as group.
This got me thinking about the benefits of art and its possible healing powers for the mind. There is research that shows that just looking at a piece of beautiful art can release the chemical Dopamine in the human brain. Dopamine is the same chemical that is released when we fall in love. This study was carried out by a clever dude called Professor Semir Zeki. He proved that when a human being views a piece of art that they deem as beautiful, the feel-good sensors in the brain are being stimulated. This proves that art, along with other treatments, may assist recovery from conditions such as depression and anxiety.
If you suffer from depression or anxiety it can be very difficult for you to fit through the shapes and time frames society relies on to function. This can end up making you feel very isolated, frustrated and helpless. I believe that art can be an escape from this isolation.
Oliver Sacks said "Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears - it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more, it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity".
I would like to conclude with this...
The government needs to recognise how vital the arts are for our future generations of this country. It should be prioritised, not pushed aside.
For a lot of people involvement in theatre, music and art can educate. It can battle isolation, loneliness and, as dramatic as it sounds, I believe that the love of art can be a reason to get up in the morning and live! Through the dark periods of my life, art in many different guises has been a glittering light in the darkness.
Finally, I would like to share with you my medicinal, sometimes funny, sometimes moving, sometimes downright cheesy playlist for the depressed...
Glacier by John Grant
Purple Hands by Kwes
Amongst Angels by Kate Bush
Never Mind the Grudge by Jamie T (the whole album is all depression-related and is beautiful)
Our Most Brilliant Friends by Slow Club
My Beloved Monster by The Eels
Avant Gardner by Courtney Barnett
Help by The Beatles
Gotta Get Through This by Daniel Bedingfield (this one is quite cheesy but what can I say - the chorus helps me a bit)
Don't Give Up by Kate Bush & Peter Gabriel
PMS Blues by Dolly Parton
Symphony 3 by Henryk Górecki
Brigitte Aphrodite will be performing 'My Beautiful Black Dog' at Southbank Centre on 6-7 February as part of Changing Minds, a new festival exploring mental health and the arts which Huffington Post are partnering with.