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How can the arts help achieve positive change for people with mental health problems?

Who can get involved? What counts as “activism”? 

Writer, director and Disabled rights activist: Vici Wreford Sinnott returns to the show to discuss these questions. She highlight some of her favourite examples of mental health-focused activism and talks about how those with and without mental health challenge can work together to make society a more equitable and happier place for everyone.

Links

  • More information about the Feeble Minded Control Bill (which became the Mental Deficiency Act 1913) 

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Please note that this show does not constitute medical advice and is not a replacement for seeking professional help. You can find our more about the show and get signposting to support on our website anyamedia.net/livelyminds

Transcript

W: Hello, my name is Will and you are listening to Lively Minds, the podcast about mental health challenges that go beyond the ebb and flow of the everyday. The podcast that asks how developing our understanding of the mental health challenges we experience influences how we address them.

 

It’s just me today, as something has come up for Ellie at the last minute, but I’m delighted to welcome back to the show Vici Wreford-Sinnott, a disabled writer, a director for stage and screen, and a passionate advocate for cultural equity for disabled people.

 

Today I’m going to be chatting with Vici about activism and mental health. I’m sure that this topic could become a series in its own right, and I’m also sure that this won’t be the last time that we talk about it.

 

In this episode, Vici is going to guide us through what activism in a mental health context means to her. How we can go about it, and how those with and without mental health challenges can work together to make society a more equitable and happier place for everyone.

 

So first of all welcome back to the show Vici, it’s brilliant to have you back on for your second time.

 

V: It’s great to be back, thanks for the invitation.

 

[music]

 

W: So my first question is what does activism in mental health mean to you?

 

V: What a big question. It’s really good to be able to talk about this. I think it’s important to say that I describe myself as a disabled person and I subscribe to the social model of disability, which is a model of disability that was created by disabled people to say that the, the problem that we experience in society is constructed by society. So the barriers and obstacles, the discrimination, the bias that exists in our society is the disabling factor in disabled people’s lives. Which is, I think just to give it a broader context, is contrary to the medical model of disability, which is a kind of the dominant way that we think about disability or mental health, which tends to kind of focus on the diagnosis and gives a big list of things a person can’t do in a disability sense, can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t see, can’t hear and it is incredibly unhelpful and an outdated way of thinking about disability. So the social model is, provides a really useful framework for me particularly, I find it useful to, to hang my activism around and how I want society to change itself.

 

So just in terms of what activism in mental health means to me. It fits into a bigger umbrella of disability activism. But there’s something I suppose, before we get too deep into conversation about activism, which is that no one with a mental health condition is expected to be an activist.

 

W: mmmmm

 

V: I think it’s important to say this because there is not an assumption that everyone listening to this conversation has to be an activist or has to carry the weight of change. Because sometimes we’re just not up to that. Getting through the day sometimes is a radical act and I really value that. So sometimes I think people can kind of feel guilty about not doing enough or not being enough or not being a voice and I know on, when I’m having a really bad episode I can feel like that too. So guilt isn’t helpful for anyone and so in that context I would just say guilt be gone!

 

[laughter]

 

W: That’s very good advice.

 

V: I think that the activism that I’m connected to really demands a change in the social beliefs and the norms that we have developed around mental health, the values and practices that our society has developed in its thinking about mental health conditions. If I think about the beginning of the 20th century when we were described as the “feeble-minded classes” who constituted a race danger in Winston Churchill’s Mental Deficiency Act. There’s a, there’s a huge amount of stigma that we still have to challenge and so we’ve inherited that baggage.

 

W: The Mental Deficiency Act, which was brought and introduced by Winston Churchill, I don’t know anything about that.

 

V: It was called the ‘Feeble-Minded Control Bill’ in 1913 and then it became passed as an act of Parliament and it’s quite horrifying because once the actor was passed, what it did, because they were, you know, it was an era of eugenics unfortunately. Right across Europe and America, they were trying to control the gene pool and so Winston Churchill did say awful things.

 

W: Ironic considering that he himself had a, had a mental health problem.

 

V: Absolutely.

 

W: Yeah.

 

V: And I’ve never worked out the timings of that, actually, of when this was passed and his own recorded, you know, experience of depression. But anyway, what it meant was that they were trying to cleanse the gene pool to get people out of circulation so that they weren’t reproducing. And basically it meant mass institutionalisation and somebody cleverer than me will have accurate statistics. But I think I read recently that when that act was passed, something like 40,000 people with mental health conditions and learning disabled people, because you know, there was a big grouping of things together then as well, were institutionalised in, and I can think back to the big red brick asylums. And I use that word historically in their context, it’s not what I would use. But I can remember the big red brick hospital near my village and people who went in there at the beginning of the 20th century just didn’t come out.

 

W: What’s really sobering about that is that it just kind of makes you realise that it’s hardly a surprise that today we are left with the remnants of that through societal impressions of mental health.

 

V: Absolutely, because the language then was, as I said, feeble-minded was used almost all of
the time. There were horrendous words used but the idea of lunatics in asylums, people who were out of control, people who were self-indulgent or lazy, it was, just the whole area was completely misunderstood. And we did have early psychiatrists kind of perpetuating thatm those mythologies around people with mental health conditions.

 

W: mmmm

 

V: And so we have we have inherited baggage, absolutely, which was embedded. It’s, it’s how we’ve always talked about mental health. And so for me, if I personally am on an even keel or I’m in a good episode, then it’s about challenging those, those misconceptions and also the mistreatment, particularly around mental health because I think, we know that there are very poor services currently. Psychiatry has been a guessing game for a long time which I think has led to people having really bad experiences of the mental health system and so some of it’s about exposing that, de-stigmatizing mental health but also the creation of community.

 

W: Yeah

 

V: It’s a big part of activism for me and I think there’s a lot, there’s a lot to be inspired by in terms of how people have come together to challenge some of the problems that we do experience around mental health. I don’t know about you Will, but for me activism sometimes, it conjures up images of being on the streets and chained to railings and

 

[laughter]

 

I’ve done that. On good days I’ll be out on the streets with with the best of us. But activism is other things as well, and I think we need to be mindful of that. Writing a letter to an MP, it can be joining a, a support group that’s led by, or setting up a support group that’s led by people who experience mental health conditions. Or it can just be deciding to stay in bed. I do think that that’s activism because its, if we’re not having a good day the radical act is to do the thing that looks after us.

 

W: Yeah.

 

V: Which is so bizarre to think that self-care is a radical act, but it just is in this society. And so I think it’s important to say that that’s activism too.

 

W: It could be argued, I guess, that unless you’re able to be an activist for yourself, it’s difficult to be an activist for other people, isn’t it?

 

V: I think that’s such an important point. And I think it’s something it’s taken activists a long time to learn. I think sometimes when you’re an activist in political urgency, you know, for human rights, if you feel like you’re being systematically discriminated against by the policies of the government, sometimes we do as activists get on a, get on a wheel and we’re carried along with the revolution, but we do burn out from that. And so I think with some of the greatest activists talking about those moments of reflection and that, that self, the importance of self-knowledge is, is vital.

 

I’ve recently in the last kind of few years had to step back at times myself. But the encouraging thing is that if we feel we have to step back from activism, there will be somebody else to pick up the baton. We’re a community. And so it’ll be somebody else’s turn for a while and they’ll carry it for a while until we’re back in the groove, you know, and that we can, we can take on more again. So I think that’s the brilliant thing about community. And so, yeah, it’s a big picture activism. And I think it is quite complicated around mental health. Knowing ourselves and accepting that we can’t be all things all of the time is really important.

 

W: Can you give us some examples of activism that has inspired you?

 

V: Absolutely. As I said, the brilliant thing about people who experience discrimination is that we self-organise. And so there’s a thing that is of huge value to me is the coming together of communities and the creation, you know, that unity. But then if I think about, because I do want to name a couple of people here, I want to reference a couple of organisations and obviously there was the within an arts context there was the Survivors Poetry Movement and also alongside that was the Survivors Speak Out and it was survivors of the mental health system that gave a space for people who were experienced in mental health conditions but had bad experiences with their treatment gave them space to talk about that and to be creative about that. Survivors Speak Out became much more politicised and really challenged the mental health system.

 

I totally love and respect Mad Pride activism. Again, it looks at how society’s organised, it looks at challenging all of that inherited baggage that we just talked about. It challenges how we view mental health.

 

And then people who really inspire me would be people like Colin Hambrook, who is the editor of Disability Arts Online, but is also a poet, a visual artist, and has, has created work extensively about both the system and all of the inequalities in the system, exposed lots of things about the mental health system, but then also writes beautifully about who we are as people, has created wonderful work around that.

 

And then Dolly Sen,

 

W: who has been on this podcast

 

V: A brilliant, brilliant, of course she has, of course she has

 

W: yeah,

 

V: who is an amazing activist, artist, advocate, and fairly recently she sectioned the DWP, the Department of Work and Pensions, herself and a couple of other artists went along.

 

W: And just for non UK listeners, Department for Work and Pensions is the government body which oversees things like benefits and work and expectations around work and that sort of thing.

 

V: That’s right. And because of the benefits system and the way that it’s chosen to assess people, it’s reviewed benefits that had been given to disabled people and people with lifelong mental health conditions, they’d been given lifelong benefits. That was all reviewed fairly recently and people now have to go in for these torturous, regular reviews and assessments. And so this piece of activism of sectioning that Department of Work and Pensions, Dolly was trying to find a heart. She wanted to know where the heart of the DWP was and it was very visual. She was outside the building. I love it when activists take their work onto the streets and it’s public, it’s in the public domain, not in a gallery, although that’s equally valuable. But I am really galvanised when I see artists and it’s getting harder to do that, I think, you know because of the way that particularly the most recent police act has changed…

 

W: Which really limits the ability to protest.

 

V: Absolutely, yeah. Which I personally find quite scary, really. And it means that people are less inclined to want to protest because of the risk that brings. So to see Dolly out there creating works of art but that have such a public punch to them is brilliant.

 

And then also just a bit closer to home for me there’s a man, Alisdair Cameron, who’s based in the Newcastle Gateshead area is a brilliant example of somebody who wanted people with mental health conditions to lead the services that they experienced and so he was very, he was fundamental in setting up organisations like Launchpad which I think is now called ReCoCo and there will be other examples of people like Alisdair but he’s a particularly passionate and driven person who really brings people together and creates environments for people to get together. I think that’s activism, because that brings about meaningful change in the lives of people who are directly experiencing mental health distress.

 

W: Because you include it all under that umbrella of disability, as understood through the social model, the solidarity that that creates means that it isn’t just people with mental health problems looking out for other people with mental health problems. It’s people, its people who feel solidarity for others who experience discrimination regardless of what your condition might be.

 

V: Yes, absolutely. When the disability rights movement, which is just over 50 years old in this country, began, it did begin with people in their own sort of impairment or condition groups, understandably, because you would gravitate towards people who shared your experience more directly. But actually it became evident that because of discrimination and bias, negative bias, that people had a shared experience of discrimination on the basis of any condition. And so that, that became a greater source of strength, as you say. It created a powerful movement. And I think similarly, the Black Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movements which were all gaining traction at the beginning of the Disability Rights Movement. Within those movements there’s a lot of difference and intersectionality. And I think that’s quite an important thing to think about in terms of who we are as a society and what that means to the constituency of disabled people, which includes, for me, includes people with mental health conditions.

 

W: Earlier you, you actually prefaced this entire conversation pretty much by saying that it’s really important that nobody feels forced or that they’re obliged to get out there and, and protest because everybody’s unique and everybody’s individual and everybody needs to just engage in ways that are right for them. I guess alongside that I’m also interested about this idea of who belongs to any kinds of movements to try and bring about improvements for people with mental health problems. For me personally, in our last conversation, at one point I was saying I find it sometimes a bit difficult to identify through the social model because I find that I can actually negotiate most of the barriers that I have. And the medication, a medication is quite an important thing for me in terms, in terms of managing my own mental health condition. But then after the recording was over, kind of a penny dropped for me and I realised that actually I kind of do identify through the social model of disability because I’m acknowledging I can overcome these barriers that are in my way. So in a sense that’s an equal kind of recognition of the social model, even if you’re going, well I don’t experience any barriers but actually somebody with precisely the same diagnosis as me could quite easily face many barriers. And one of my issues is OCD and OCD is pretty much consistently in the top 10 or top 20 most disabling conditions according to the World Health Organisation. So I guess where I’m getting at with this is perhaps I’m slightly smudging into another question around allyship and the importance of that, but I guess that idea of who belongs to it? somebody who for them their medication is really important. It’s not as if that excludes them from engaging in activism that’s underpinned by the social model, does it?

 

V: Oh no, absolutely, yes. And I think sometimes there is a misconception that the social model suggests that we don’t need medical support. Of course we need medical support. We need medical support and we need medical intervention. I take medication for my mental health condition. I also do a range of other things you know around that. So just because I subscribe to the social model of disability doesn’t mean that I deny the impact of my condition on my body and mind. I think it’s more the social model would say we’re aware of the discrepancies within a system that purports to provide care, support, but actually does it inadequately or holds, some of the societal discriminations of the past is actually inherent and built into the system. And so we have had people with histories of misdiagnosis, people who’ve been misprescribed things.

 

This hasn’t happened to me, but we know of lots of people who’ve been prescribed something that they’ve then become dependent on, but it was the wrong thing in the first place. And so just in terms of allyship, we need allies within that system as well, because we need champions who will bring about change and those people, they exist and they are.

 

I think it’s very important that change is led by the agency of the people who experience the disadvantage.

 

W: Yeah

 

V: So for me, it’s important that the disability rights movement is disabled led. It’s not like a charity model, which we would have seen in the 19th century, where people who knew best developed a paternalistic model. And so some of the impairment or condition groups, some of the biggest charities that exist around different conditions were paternalistic, they were set up by non disabled people or by the people who weren’t affected by the condition. With, in good faith, you know, but they had a charity model approach within which the disabled person does not have equal status. So I think, I think it’s about organisations like that being conscious. If that is their origin or if they’re a new organisation springing up and they want to be allies, they need to realise that the voices that lead are the people affected.

 

W: I think there’s also something really interesting about the involvement of people who have had previous experience that may not still currently experience mental health challenges or barriers to participation. And I think, I mean, he wasn’t talking specifically about a mental health thing, but I think of Jack Thorne, the writer who did the Edinburgh TV lecture a few years ago,an incredibly powerful lecture. And in it, he actually talks about how, again, he’s talking more broadly about disability rather than about mental health, but he was talking about how whiles he no longer identifies as disabled, he once did so, and that has left a deep solidarity that he feels with disabled people. It’s about recognising that all of our experiences are valid no matter where they appeared in our lifetimes, as it were.

 

V: Absolutely. I mean, just interestingly, recently Jack Thorne has changed his status again and is identifying as a disabled person.

 

W: Ah thats interesting

 

V: And it is without going into the specifics of his particular condition. People can have fluctuating conditions and might have years where they’re okay, they’re doing well, and so might not experience the same barriers and discriminations. But then fluctuations means that things can come back around again. But I think the broader point that you’re making is, that people who may have experienced, for example, depression that was triggered by a specific, a very specific event or loss or trauma, that they then do go on a journey towards recovery, obviously still have a valid role to play because their experience was real. And I mean, the other thing I suppose that I was heading towards saying as well was people who are motivated by social justice or people who see that we live in a pluralistic society who are egalitarian people I think do have a place in activism. I think that we just have to be cautious about power dynamics and ensuring that the voice and the position that’s presented is, is framed by disabled people or people with a mental health condition.

 

W: Mmmm … … Can I ask actually as well? I’ve got no evidence back with so but I’ve always felt that the social model was quite late in the day getting into the mental health space compared to other areas of disability. I know that there are still plenty of people with mental health problems who would say that they didn’t subscribe to the social model, that they do see their mental health problem through that kind of very medicalised lens. How do we include them in activism?

 

V: Yep. That’s a really good question. And I just want to say that I totally respect people for whom the social model doesn’t work, because lots of people experience their condition to an extent that they feel that the social model does not acknowledge. So whether it’s a pain thing, whether it’s a so-called debilitating condition, or whether to them they experience their condition to such an extent that it feels like that is the, that’s the main disabling factor in their lives. I would never take that away from somebody. However the things that would make people’s lives better that would improve their experience of life would be things like better access to, to medication, to medical treatment, to the whole system and service, just being better. And so if it’s around that, that people feel motivated to want to see change then you know, that’s, that’s valid. That’s a really important part of improving people’s lives. And I think that their own experience brings change in how they view the world as well. And I know from my conversations, for example, if I’ve done a workshop, a creative workshop with a group of people with mental health conditions who don’t know that there’s a medical model or a social model, but who definitely view their condition as debilitating and, you know, the biggest affecting factor in their lives. You know, if you start to open up a conversation or have an open conversation about stigma or how other people perceive them or the treatment that they might have received. For example, people who’ve been sectioned against their will might have had, will have had experiences with either the police or with a GP or with a psychiatrist that was not a positive, you know, the way that the whole thing was handled was not a positive. So although the action is to protect the person, it’s done in an undignified way that does not respect the individual. There is a, people having a dual experience of life. And I think to be an activist, you actually don’t need to know what the social model or the medical model is. In lots of ways, that’s an academic conversation for lots of people, in that they’re busy living their life. And so activism can be about any of those things and we don’t even have to call it activism, we can just call it wanting to bring around change, wanting to change the way we’re treated or you know, wanting to change the stigma how people view us. I think people can quite commonly relate to that. They feel judged, or myself, as a mum with a mental health condition. I might have touched on this in the last conversation. It became very difficult to go to the doctors with my children for them to have a check-up or if we were concerned about something. It was loaded with the fact that they thought I was a neurotic mother because I had a mental health condition. Our day-to-day lives aren’t just about our condition, we do encounter the world and its barriers and so, I suppose I wouldn’t necessarily want to change people’s minds about how they perceive themselves, but to encourage and bring solidarity to people who, who would like to change the way they’re viewed by others. And so some of that’s about empowering people in their everyday lives and realising that they have agency, which quite often we don’t feel that we have, we feel powerless in the system.

 

W: And there also seems to be a distinction as well from what I can tell between on the
one hand activism, which is about creating your own spaces that are right for you and right for the people that you work with. That kind of almost what I might call internal activism for want of a better term. And on the other hand, kind of that more external trying to change the system kind of stuff. Like tying yourself to railings

 

V: Yeah

 

[kaughter]

 

W: If you’re not worried about getting arrested through the New Lords. Can you speak to that for a bit?

 

I guess that I’m much more, when it comes to a mental health point of view, I’m specifically mental health, I’m more in the first of those in the sense that I’ve been able to create a job description and a way of working for myself that works for me. And that’s one of the reasons why I say that I think I don’t really experience barriers that other people do because I’ve been able to, I’ve been very, very lucky to be able to design a working environment that works for me and I really hope works for other people as well.

 

When it comes to the broader disability stuff, because of my work as a co-founder of Beacon Films, it is a little bit more in the attempting some system change stuff, but that stuff is a bit scarier because you’re coming up against some very entrenched agendas there.

 

V: I see all of those things as part of a continuum of change, which are just positioned in different places. To think about that in the body of one person on a day-to-day basis, they might navigate their own environment to make it work for them. And that’s because society, the very big picture, hasn’t put things in place to make that easy for people. So we do have to work hard to create our own, you know, our own environments. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing because that’s where we get solidarity, unity and often joy from shared experiences.

 

Just in terms of the systemic change, I think that there are problems with the ideology of our politics. So, I am now going to the much bigger picture and the national ideology of our government that dictates the structures that we live within, that dictates the quality of the systems that we experience and the services that we receive. To me, all of those things are very connected to me sitting in my living room, feeling like I can’t leave the house. And so there is a connection. I’m not saying that we all sit and think about it in this way. But as an activist and as somebody who, I write about this, I have some academic interest in this, and, but ultimately as a political artist, I just see the connection, but I don’t expect every person to live that. Can you say a little bit more about the kind of, of your question in terms of what you were making reference to in terms of those different levels of activism?

 

W: Yeah, there’s a type of activism that is about working to try and create environments that work for you. So that might be, let’s think of a practical example, it might be that group of people with shared experiences who simply come together and are able to talk about their conditions, how it affects them, what challenges they experience and have that kind of shared solidarity and that, that can be designed in such a way that those people are able to engage in that in a full way.

 

V: Yes.

 

W: I guess the other angle on that though is that there’s a risk of it becoming a bit siloed and the risk of it becoming a bit, it’s not a risk of it being siloed, that is a perfectly valid thing to do and actually I’m hopefully going to start doing something like that myself quite soon.

 

V: Yeah

 

W: But so that’s a perfectly valid thing to do. I guess the other aspect I was thinking about was when we move out of those safe environments where we’re surrounded by people who understand us at that fundamental level

 

V: Yes

 

W: And move into activism where we’re actually up against people who have no understanding whatsoever, whether that be through lived experience, allyship. And that, I guess, is the slightly scarier form of activism for me.

 

V: Yes, yes. So it is. It’s more confrontational. There’s a different desired outcome in that we want, we want people to hear, we want them to listen and we want them to act. And I think that’s why things like the disability rights movement, I mentioned that it’s five decades old, slightly more than that possibly now, it’s taken a heck of a long time through much direct activism opposing the government, opposing policy, you know, opposing changes in the system that are out there in the world to bring about meaningful change, you know, it took a long time. 1995 was the first Disability Discrimination Act. So that was at least 25 years into the disability rights movement. You know, it took a long time for that, that to happen. But I think as individuals, if we’re thinking of moving through activism, the power of the more external, I think you were describing it as like an internal within a community or a movement and then the external world, I think that we can gain strength from each other. I, I also think we shouldn’t put pressure on ourselves to be that.

 

W: Yeah, kind of goes back to your point at the very beginning, doesn’t it?

 

V: It does, yeah. I think in times of political urgency though, people are more compelled.

 

W: Yeah.

 

V: Our families quite often take on an activism role, particularly if I think about all the PIP assessments, the sanctions that people on benefits have experienced, people literally going without food and heating. Sometimes the individual experiencing in that, is not in a position to be an activist. So it takes the family, it takes the community around them, the neighbours. And again, we just have to, I think, look at our national organisations as well. So, you know, there is Disability Rights UK, who are the national Disability Rights organisation which disabled people’s organisations can get involved with. And so, individuals can indeed, you know. So then if you gravitate towards an organisation, I think that, who are bringing about change or fighting for change, you’re in a safer position because you’re with other people and there’s a framework there to support it.

 

W: And also you can get involved in activism in a way that works for you and in a way that
doesn’t put you in a position that you feel uncomfortable with as well.

 

V: Absolutely. I think that’s the bottom line. I think that’s the bottom line, is that you can only do what you can do. And if that means making something beautiful, like I, I work with women’s groups who themselves, you know, have got mental health conditions, who come together and give each other support. So there’s the mutual sense of community and shared experience, who want to bring about change, but definitely will not be going onto the streets because that’s far too, you know, there’s too many fears around that, but who will make something beautiful. It’s just a different type of activism. But you know, little kindness pebbles with a message on
them. Or somebody I know stuck up some things in, in ladies’ loos that said, “If you need one of these, please take one.” And there were just little phrases of empowerment or strength and you could tear one off if you wanted it. It’s just the sort of thing that gives you a tiny boost in your day.

 

W: Yeah

 

V: And to the person who’s doing something small and beautiful like that, like they do it knowing they’re making a difference to somebody. That is not what we first think of as activism. But actually the difference that makes to a person’s life is totally relevant in the bigger scheme of things because there’s a place for it all and we need it all. Some days I need to go to the loo and be able to rip off “you will get through today” and I could put that in my pocket and keep feeling it throughout the day. That’s a gift.

 

W: And we keep on coming back to the arts and of course the arts is such a vital tool for activism isn’t it? In terms of spreading the message in terms of communicating. I mean on a very practical level creating, as you say, beautiful things as a tool of activism may not mean that you’re out on the streets but it may mean that you’re creating something which just raises a bit of awareness amongst some people, that gives some people the inspiration, that makes people feel better, that in some cases, as I know with your work, can reach really big audiences as well and actually has the potential to really shift minds amongst quite a large number of people as well?

 

V: I think so. I mean, I think it’s the way that we talk to each other as a society. It’s the way we test ourselves as a community. We test where our humanity is through the arts. And when I say the arts, I don’t mean that with capital letters. We experience the arts every single day by putting the radio on. We listen to musicians. We put the telly on. We watch filmmakers. The arts is in our everyday. But I think, for me, because culture is where we carry stereotypes, it’s where we develop tropes, negative tropes around disabled people, it’s where our beliefs are carried on in stories and tales and misrepresentations. That also is a site of change for me and that really, you know, I really believe in that. And in the disability arts community, we try to make that case and make that case and slowly over decades, our work is reaching bigger audiences. We are finding ourselves making television, film, we are in bigger stages in theatres and we’re on exhibition, we’re on gallery walls in exhibitions. But, something that gave me great hope recently was the Post Office scandal television series. I think it was on for four nights, the change that that galvanised, that absolutely was the power of the arts to bring about change, to tell the truth.

 

W: Yeah, yeah.

 

And telling the truth is the most important thing for me. Tell the truth about who we are as a society.

 

W: Yeah, just to explain again, just for non-UK listeners, that the Post Office scandal was around the system called Horizon, which was a computer system brought in in the early 2000s, I believe, which meant that hundreds of postmasters around the UK were convicted of fraud or stealing money that they were completely innocent of. This drama was made by ITV, and the way that it’s forced politicians to actually come out and talk about what they’re going to do has been astonishing, hasn’t it? And as you say, yeah it just demonstrates the power of the arts.

 

V: It really does when, if you can capture the imagination through the arts, and on that scale, it’s amazing that ITV you know made that series. And yeah, I saw within four days, there was public outcry, because the public just hadn’t realised what had happened to people who were running our post offices in this country, and how they had been literally sent to prison. They were convicted of theft when they had done nothing wrong. It was a systemic problem, but within days politicians were forced to speak about it, the public demanded that everybody was pardoned and that a compensation system was, was put in place. And it was amazing how quickly things started to… I don’t know, you know what the outcomes of that will all be, that remains to be seen, but the level of national conversation about those injustices. So yeah, I still hope that one of us can write one of those television programs around disability and have a similar sort of impact.

 

W: My final question then, Vici, is can you imagine a time when there is no longer a need for activism in mental health?

 

V: We all dream about utopia, the Disability Rights Movement, the Black Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the Working-Class Movement. We want a utopia of change when we see fairness built into our society. And lots of us don’t think that we’re anywhere near that yet. And so it’s not coming any time soon, that there won’t be a time for activism, that activism won’t be needed. I think we do have to fight on. We do that in our own individual ways, as we’ve said repeatedly in this conversation. But I do believe in the power of unity and community to bring about change. It’s how we’ve brought about change in the past. And so I really hope we get there. I want that for our communities, for our kids, for the future generations. But there’s a long way to go.

 

W: Thank you so much for coming on the show, Vici.

 

V: My pleasure as always. Good to talk to you Will, thank you.

Lively Minds is an Anya Media //// Still Ill OK co-production

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