“We help people see the person, not the problem”

A Birmingham community project uses creative workshops to bring artists with mental health issues together.

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A community leader says she’s able to provide ‘a safe and supportive space’ for black adults struggling with their mental health thanks to ‘vital’ funding raised through The Health Lottery.

Birmingham workshops bring creatives together

Shaz Jones runs Birmingham-based StereoHype Social. This community project, organised by Red Earth Collective, brings together new and emerging artists and creatives from ethnic communities who have a lived experience of mental health issues.

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Thanks to The Health Lottery and a £30,977 grant, the project has been able to provide its members with regular workshops and ongoing support. This has also included the opportunity to showcase their art and music in front of audiences.

Shaz explained: “As a group we use spoken words and poetry, as well as the arts, like drama and music as well as photography, storytelling and drawing to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination in racialised and marginalised communities. We run support workshops and make time for peer support and reflection, so we are always having open conversations about mental health.

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“It is a safe space - a place where they can share their own, private but lived experiences among a group of people who understand them and are supportive.”

Shaz said that the funding has allowed the group to put on three different events at local art venues, including a sold-out audience of 200 people at the Midlands Arts Centre, in Cannon Hill Park. 

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“Through these performances, we address and try to break down the prejudices these people face as ethnic minorities with mental health struggles. We want to show the audience that these people are talented and gifted and are managing and recovering. 

“They are not defined or constricted by their condition. From our experience of working in the mental health sector, we have seen that over time family, friends and carers see a problem not a person and that similarly, health professionals see a set of symptoms. Ingrained stigma and discrimination around mental health is very sadly rife in communities, faith and cultural groups and we believe in stamping this out in the most positive, inspiring way that we can.”

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Shaz said the funding received through The Health Lottery is ‘vital’ in helping the participants explore and enhance their creative skills, but also improve their mental health and well-being. 

She said: “This funding for this project is so important to those who attend without a shadow of a doubt. It’s vital. We have seen members grow in confidence and develop their creativity. We have seen poor mental health can lead to loneliness, and this project helps with that - it is bringing people together through a shared love of creatives.

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“Some of our members are vulnerable or have low self-esteem, and this project allows them to reconnect with their community. By expressing themselves in a way they enjoy and feel comfortable - such as through music or spoken word performances - then they feel like they are contributing to community life.”

Community arts projects providing a safe space

Shaz and the StereoHype Social team work alongside mental health professionals and community and faith leaders on the project.

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They have 19 black adults aged between 24-60 on the programme funded through The Health Lottery - but she says the waiting list is 20 people and growing.

“We take referrals from the local hospitals and units, but then we also have people who come to us off their own bats who haven’t had a diagnosis and we signpost them to the services,” she said.

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“There is no other project in Birmingham providing a regular, safe space and opportunities for marginalised and racialised people who have mental health problems. And because of that, we have taught the professionals so much - they have come and seen [their patients] perform and they don’t recognise them. We have taught them that offering a creativity output is a crucial part of their mental health recovery and well-being.”

Project leader Shaz, who has experienced domestic violence in a relationship and grew up with an alcoholic parent, wanted to use her own lived experiences to help others. 

As part of her work, she has visited schools, colleges and prisons and has also travelled around Europe and Africa to share her knowledge of the link between creative output and good mental health. This has included highlighting the differences when it comes to diagnosing those in different ethnicities. 

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She explained: “If a black man or woman was struggling [with their mental health] they would probably be seen as schizophrenic, manic or bipolar, something extreme. But if a caucasian man or woman had the same symptoms, they would get the teddy bear treatment. This is what we have seen and felt in our community, it is the grenade approach to the black man or woman, and it has to change.”

Every time you play Health Lottery games, like The Big Win or All or Nothing you help to support much-needed community projects and good causes all over Britain.

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The current society benefitting from funds raised is YNW Health CIC T/A HL Yorkshire and Humber

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