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Poetry And Mental Health - The Great Escape

It was sixth form when I first developed a passion (rather obsession) for poetry. I had always dabbled in my own poems, winning title of 'Bard' at primary school in Wales, but had never been encouraged towards or provided access to poetry at home. I was fortuitous to be placed in the one sixth form class who had a rather eccentric teacher; an enchanting vicar who could recite Shakespeare's full works and more. We were perhaps, 'ahead of our time' in studying the theme of 'Mental Health in Literature' for our A-Levels, focusing on the texts of Sylvia Plath and the lesser known (to me) Antonia White. I have never undertaken voluntary extra reading in my life until I started taking that class.

Sylvia Plath once wrote 'is there no way out of the mind?' and boy, that is a sentiment anyone with mental health issues can easily identify with. Her poetry is riddled with references to broken synapses and singed nerve endings, the silence of the self and the heavy weight of her illness. Reading her poetry and journals today, my overwhelming thought is how far we have come in our discussion of mental health, but how slowly we have moved there. Through all my reading, what strikes me is how futile Plath's attempts to combat her mental illness were, how lonely and isolating it was, how prehistoric the treatments were and how resigned to her fate she seemed. Whether you consider her a martyr or a tragic hero, there is no doubt that she had a bravery, an honesty about her feelings that we are still struggling to encourage in 2015. Considering she died in 1963, it is truly shocking how many people still suffer in silence, stigmatised by the media and even those closest to them.

A recent radio programme followed the Emergency Poet on her travels around London and beyond, prescribing therapeutic poetry for a range of serious to theatrical ailments in a vintage ambulance. Whilst lighthearted, there was a serious message; poetry as therapy. Under five percent of the population read poetry regularly, which is a crying shame. A good poem reaches in to your heart, pulls at those strings, makes your stomach flip with recognition and brings tears to your eyes. More than that, poetry is art in its truest form; it needn't rhyme, look good or make sense to anyone apart from you. There is brutal truth in the words on the page, which is rarely found anywhere in these days of filters and selfies.

Getting words down on a page and then sharing them can be daunting, exposing and potentially cringe-worthy, but I have found it one of the most rewarding ways of dealing with my feelings, especially around anxiety and health issues. In the end, if no-one hears me at least I have found a catharsis from outpouring or a shared emotion from identifying with a great writer. I truly believe that there are dozens of 'strands' to the way we should be approaching and tackling mental health issues, from counselling to medication to sport and activity.

Writing and poetry are just one strand or layer to the multitude of ways we can positively deal with our emotions; we should be proud to reveal who we really are.

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