Foot In The Door: Open Doors presents YOU

Last week we hosted the last of three Open Doors events. YOU explored all things mental health, wellbeing, self-confidence and work-life-balance related.

Blogs on the other two events in this series can be found here: Networks, Paper & Presence.

Our panel members for YOU:

Danni Ebanks-Ingram – Danni is a Birmingham based artist engaging in social and political subjects through multidisciplinary practice. Danni is also a keen longboarder and part of Boarders Without Borders – the UKs first BAME, all girls longboarding crew.

Amahra Spence – Amahra is an artist, producer and founding director of MAIA – a production, research and development company, exploring the ways creatives and arts-workers live, work and contribute in society, both in and beyond artistic capacities.

Que The Wolf – Que is a creative entrepreneur, motivational speaker, youth facilitator and music industry maestro.

Melanie Glass – Melanie is Development and Delivery Manager for Newman Health & Wellbeing – a community-based service offering counselling and psychotherapy, youth outreach and wellbeing activities. Melanie also has a social enterprise, Devenish Girl, a kitchen school offering bespoke events and catering.

To view the full programme for the event, including detailed biographies for each panel member, please click here: Programme_YOU

The Session began with an introduction by Noel Dunne, Company Director at Creative Alliance, followed by our panel of industry experts sharing their experiences and insights.

Noel – The topic of the event is wellbeing and mental health. How does this feature in your work?

Amahra – through my theatre work I often use true stories, my stories, which opens a kind of vulnerability. It informed how MAIA came about. In our work we look to find ways to support the different needs of artists. How do artists/creatives navigate the city – we look to respond to an individuals needs.

Melanie – Newman Health & Wellbeing was set up as a mental health provision, working with children at the centre, at schools and also with businesses and organisations. Providing mental health workshops and also a walking group. My social enterprise – Devenish Girl – uses baking to train up young people. Creativity being a great way to support people with their mental health – just enjoying what they are doing in that moment.

Danni – I come across it a lot with other creatives in my circle – it’s a normalised thing and not something I’m ever shocked by. And it’s good that way. There are many different ways to work with people who are struggling with mental health. I explore what mental health is through my performance. There are moments when everyone watching is silent and you know its because it resonates so much with the audience.

Que – I work a lot with schools and young people in music departments. The educational system doesn’t cater for mental health. There isn’t anywhere that you learn the real-life side of it, they don’t teach you what to do when you’re feeling really low. Mental health isn’t actively spoken about in those places and it’s perceived as being ‘not cool’ to see school counsellors. When we go into schools, we just try to talk to the kids. Music, art, gives out feelers that people can relate to. Then you get to start a dialogue with the kids and you might have the opportunity to say ‘YO, me too’.

Noel – As practising professionals what kind of tactics might you employ when you’re feeling low and don’t have your game face on but need still to work/ engage/ communicate with your clients?

Que – I have this treasure chest and every time I do something sick I write it down and put it in the chest. Then I’ll read those notes on my down days to remind myself that I’m a sick guy! I’m wavy! Mental health issues can feel very lonely and you need to be able to remind yourself of how great you are.

Amahra – I have struggled with crippling self doubt at the start of my journey. It was only in retrospect, after doing something that I had aimed to do, that I realised I can do what I set my mind to. There is more and more open dialogue about anxiety and depression but we tend to shy away from conversations about manic depression, bipolar disorder and other conditions. There is such a broad spectrum of challenges that don’t get discussed.

Melanie – Like Que I have a gratitude jar at home and at work. Every 3-6 months I’ll empty the jar and analyse the contents to see why I should be proud of myself. I always try and leave work with a good thought in my head and speak to at least one person every day. We all function well if we’re in balance – balance looks different for each of us. Every year I take time out to think about my balance because when it’s working I’m working.

Danni – I have this kind of checklist for my anxiety and depression, something that I might use on those days when you just can’t get out of bed. Have I eaten? Check. Have I showered? Check. Have I been outside today? Check. Try to tick things off your checklist and if you can’t then don’t feel bad about that! When your mental health is bad is hard to do even the simplest of things. Longboarding is something that I use when I’m feeling crap – it’s exercise but doesn’t feel like it! In a work environment my energy levels and anxiety levels need monitoring, by me. I think of it a bit like spoons – at the start of the day I might have 10 spoons and with each commitment or activity I’ll use up some spoons and when I only have a few spoons left I know that I need to be mindful of what else I commit to. Know your boundaries and communicate with people.

Noel – We’ve talked about there being an honesty in sharing how you are feeling. Have you ever experienced it not being respected or not being received well? How did you recover from that?

Amahra – I’ve had experience of a company not knowing how to manage mental health illness. As a freelancer, I had no grounds. The situation left me in a bad way, not only financially but also emotionally. You need to safeguard yourself. Take time off when you need it but ask for an honest, open conversation with your client/collaborator.

Melanie – My heritage (Northern Irish, Celtic) is one of being strong and determined – not talking about stuff, especially mental health. Some years back I ended up having to take 4 months off work – my body had just given up. I tried to return to work too soon and ended up having to take off more lengthy sick leave. When I finally did return I handed in my notice. I had realised that I couldn’t talk to my employer and they couldn’t talk to me. It taught me to protect myself.

Amahra – it’s so sad that we have to feel that way.

Danni – There have been situations where I haven’t said anything at work. I didn’t feel I could say anything and was unsure how it would sound in a work context. What happens next? Do you get sent home? If you have a migraine you get sent home.

Que – I’ve said stuff and it’s been taken badly. It comes down to being honest with yourself. Once you’ve said it, it’s out, and you’ll feel better. As long as you always understand that you are wavy. The fact that you are born makes you unique! Say it out loud. Cry – cry so much that your eyes hurt and your chest is heavy – you’ll of let it out and it’s refreshing.

Noel – From my perspective as an employer of both PAYE and freelancers, I would have empathy and concern for my PAYE employees but if you’re freelance, I don’t care. If you’re an employee you have rights. Understanding the relationship you have with your employer is essential. As a freelancer you have a job that needs to be done and if you can’t do it, someone else can. You need to manage your mental well being. There is a vulnerability in being a freelancer – be mindful.

Amahra – Regular check-ins with your client/employer/collaborator can help – sometimes, if you don’t mention anything, they might not have a clue.

Questions from the event attendees sparked even more discussion:

For freelancers, is there a union or company that deals with workplace issues/advice?

Amahra – there are niche, sector specific, unions. We are looking at developing something broader as freelancers often work across industries.

Melanie – a peer mentor can provide a good sounding board – someone that you can talk to openly and honestly. Through that discussion you will be reinforced, questioned, evaluate what your doing and sometimes face hard facts.

Noel – you need to communicate about any issues you encounter. If you can’t speak to an employer then get someone else to do it for you.

What are your best tips for the bad days when you can’t do anything?

Danni – don’t be too hard on yourself and see what you can cross off your checklist – think small – small steps can make a big difference.

Que – the idea of a checklist is so true, when you see things getting crossed off your checklist you can see that you’re achieving things. Down days often come after a major disappointment – think about the timing and how you plans things out. Sometimes you feel down when you’ve reached the end of a plan or project, so start planning again! Watch your friends. Don’t hang out with vampires! Don’t let them suck your energy. Be honest and straight up. The mosquitos, the leeches, let them go. Roll with people who are going to make you feel good.

Amahra – give yourself space, communicate, roll through it. Put therapy costs into your ACE funding applications so that you can look after your mental health.

Melanie – have a person, someone you can reach out to. Pause – you don’t always have to react. Stop and ask yourself why you are feeling like this. Pause and let the dust settle.

Danni – pausing is healthy. People might say ‘why are you feeling like this, why don’t you try and get out of it’. Roll with your feelings. Give them their space.

Que – The worst feeling ever is feeling like a burden to someone. You need to let that feeling go. Ditch the guilt. Talk. Run with it.

Presentation and activity led by Ben Cole from Bedazzle

This part of the event was developed and presented by Ben Cole – Ben is founder and Chair of Trustees for Bedazzle – a charity for young people that offers support with Mental Health and Personal Development. Ben has always maintained a passion and keen interest in the arts and Mental Health and the relationship between the two!

Title of session: But Zebras Don’t Get Stressed! – A presentation exploring the relationship between the arts and mental health, with some tips for enhancing your wellbeing and practical strategies for self-care in the face of adversity. Our approach uses principles of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, this session focussed very much on how to regulate our emotions.

In groups we explored the question of what mental health means to each of us:

• It affects all of us and is always present
• Control or lack of control with your mind
• To be taken over by thoughts & feelings
• To struggle, perhaps with self doubt or perception
• Wellbeing – present state – what’s happening right now
• It’s on the inside – not obvious and not something that people are aware of
• Illness


The World Health Organization describes mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

We talked about arts and mental health, how creativity can help us to sport through our thoughts and feelings, to potentially make a positive out of difficult experiences. Art can be an excellent tool for challenging society, to raise awareness, break down barriers, observe reflect and encourage critical thinking.  “Creativity is intelligence having fun” – Albert Einstein

On the flip side, working in a creative industry can have negative impacts on our mental health:
• Self-confidence
• Unpaid work, job insecurity & finances
• Personal vision and the frustrations that come with it
• Passions being on the line – pouring your heart and soul into your work to then have it rejected
• We are told that there is no right or wrong in art, and yet as a professional you receive a lot of judging
• Wanting or needing validation from your audience
• Feeling like you always have to deliver
• Not being considered as a ‘real job’ by people
• Having to compete for work

Ben discussed the ‘Iceberg Illusion’ – “Success is an iceberg. There is what people see on the surface: confidence, wealth, beauty, relationships, seniority. Then there is what people don’t see hiding below the surface: persistence, failure, sacrifice, disappointment, good habits, hard work and dedication. This is beautifully depicted by Sylvia Duckworth” (source link & some great tips here).

Top Tips from Ben

• Mindfulness supports tolerance, emotional regulation & interpersonal effectiveness
• Mind your language – use positive language instead of negative
• Take a brain break – be less MIND FULL and more MINDFUL
• Talk to someone trusted
• Think about keeping a journal which will help you to process your thoughts
• Mental health is deeply personal but there is a lot of shared experience
• Success will look different for everyone
• Find ways to reinforce your own achievements

Happiful Magazine

All of the event attendees were provided with a free copy of a Happiful Magazine. Happiful is a mental health and wellbeing magazine on a mission to create a healthier and happier society through inspiring life stories and positive news. A massive thank you to the Happiful team for sending us copies and spreading the love!

In Your Words

Thank you to everyone who attended, our events wouldn’t be the same without you. Here’s what they had to say about the event:

What was the highlight of the event for you?

Hearing from the panel about their personal experiences
The presentation by Ben from Bedazzle
Learning how to cope with stress & depression

What did you think about the event?

Really enjoyed it, very helpful & informative

Would you recommend these events to others?

Yes, definitely, 100%
Yes – so, so important & often overlooked

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Open Doors is a series of events designed to help you grow your employability skills in the creative sector. Each session explores a key element of what is needed to make a strong start in the industry. We invite Creative sector professionals to lead the sessions plus provide the space for you to learn and put your skills into action and meet new people. The events are aimed at, but not limited to, 16-24 year olds who are looking to build a career in the creative sector. Foot in the Door is Creative Alliance’s programme of training designed to support home grown talent into creative, digital and marketing roles. The programme is funded by Arts Connect and Arts Council England and Creative Skillset’s Film Skills Fund, with BFI’s Film Forever National Lottery Funds. With thanks for Birmingham Hippodrome for hosting the event and Kate Green Photography.