The Umbrella Organisation

The Umbrella Organisation

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Rethink's "Can You Tell?" Project
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Photograph of me and other Can You Tell? volunteers at Brighton Pride, Saturday 3 August 2013
Photo credit: Rethink Mental Illness

This Saturday (22 March) Rethink Mental Illness is holding a wrap party for its Can You Tell? project. Can You Tell? is a photo exhibition challenging stigma and discrimination around mental health issues. It features five large portraits of people from all walks of life with different experiences of mental illness. The exhibition aims to show visitors that mental illness can affect everyone but people recover and get on with their lives. Talking about mental illness helps reduce stigma, and campaign volunteers engaged with visitors to the exhibition to share their own experiences of mental illness face to face. The project was funded by Time to Change, ran for a year, and all the Can You Tell? events have now taken place.

Follow the link below for more information on the Can You Tell? photo exhibition and the Can You Tell? campaign:
http://www.rethink.org/get-involved/campaigns/can-you-tell

I have been involved in Rethink's Can You Tell? project since April 2013, both as a Steering Group Member and as a Campaign Volunteer at 5 Can You Tell? events. I thought now would be a good time to look back on the project and reflect on what we achieved and what I learnt.

My Can You Tell? Story

I am on Rethink’s Can You Tell? Steering Group and I have been a campaign volunteer at 5 Can You Tell? events – the Lambeth Country Show, Brighton Pride, Chelmsford High Street, Peterborough’s LAMMA show, and the Whitgift Shopping Centre in Croydon.

I have had a very positive experience at all of the Can You Tell? events and taking part in the events, working with the Rethink team and the other volunteers, has made me much more confident about speaking out on mental health issues and challenging mental health stigma and discrimination.

I have always been very open about my mental health issue, and happy to share my experiences, with my friends, family and work colleagues. But I have never spoken to members of the general public before about these issues.

I was very nervous before my first event (Lambeth Country Show) and I found it very hard initially to approach people and to engage them in conversation. But it got easier as the shift went on and as I got used to approaching people and talking to them. The delicious fortune cookies really helped as an ice-breaker to get the conversation started!

Each of the events was different – I went to a London fair, a Pride event, a High Street, a farmers’ market, and a shopping centre. Some events were “easier” than others. It was very easy to talk to people at Brighton Pride – LGBT people understand stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination, and many are involved in campaigning activities, so they understood very quickly and easily who we were and what we were about. But we were received positively everywhere we went, and people were much happier to talk to us and spend time with us than I had assumed they would be – even when they were out shopping on a Saturday!

The “surprise” event for me was Peterborough’s LAMMA show – the farmers’ market. The majority of visitors to the show were farmers, men, self-employed, working the land, and living in rural communities. I am a woman, who has always worked in the public sector in office jobs, and I have only ever lived in big cities. Would I be able to talk to farmers and find a connection? The answer was yes. I was surprised at how many farmers were happy to stop and talk, speak about mental health, and share the difficulties they were facing and the pressures they were under. We were able to have many meaningful conversations on a day when I really didn’t expect to.

By the time I got to my 5th event, I was very comfortable approaching people and confident about talking to them about my own story and experiences, the Can You Tell? campaign, Rethink and Time to Change. Taking part in Can You Tell? events has equipped me with the confidence and the know-how to speak out about mental health issues to a much wider audience.

People's response to the exhibition and to us at the events has been very positive. People have been very keen to talk to us, to listen to our stories, and to share their own experiences with us. They are particularly interested in learning where they can go to access further help, support, information and advice.

I believe the project has made a real difference because by sharing our stories and our experiences, others affected by mental health issues - either personally, or as a carer, relative or friend - know they are not alone; there are many others facing similar issues; and they can be directed to sources of help, support, information and advice. It shows people with mental health issues can get better and recover, and return to being full and active members of society.

Its Time to Talk. Its Time to Change.

timetochange
Photo credit: Time to Change

Rethink Mental Illness is a charity that believes a better life is possible for millions of people affected by mental illness. Follow the link below to the Rethink website for further information on mental health and mental illness:
http://www.rethink.org/

Follow the link below for further information on Time to Change, who funded the project:
http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

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