Are You Mental?

by Alice Kidney & Ella Nuttall on 20 February 2021
Are You Mental?
A conversation between Ella Nuttall and Alice Kidney, founder of Mental Zine

(Alice Kidney at the launch of Mental’s 2019 exhibition)

The founder of Mental, Alice Kidney, talks to us about mental diversity, the pandemic and her self-published zine . 25-year-old Londoner Alice created the Mental Project in 2019. The project is a London-based mental health collective which works towards creating space for mental difference and acceptance in today’s society. Mental works with a vast array of creatives - including photographers, poets and musicians - to encourage greater discussion and general acceptance of the spectrum of mental health experiences.

EN: Could you tell us a bit about what Mental Project is?

AK: Thank you for inviting me, it’s a pleasure to speak to people about this project. Mental Project is a creative collective based in London run by people affected by mental difference, which is a term used for the variety of mental health experiences people face. It started as a small, printed zine that included artwork in various mediums. We now run it through various collaborative spaces including workshops, events, our Instagram and the zine. It is a burgeoning charitable organisation and we are still in the early days of its development.

EN: What led you to create Mental Project? And when was it founded?

AK: The initial aim of Mental Zine was to help those who have experienced mental difference - in any form. Also for those that chose to, to share their experience - hopefully in a cathartic way.

I wanted to create a platform for creatives who are affected by mental differences to enable them to hear the voices of others and to encourage the exchange of experience and knowledge that will add depth and personality to these often misunderstood disorders.

Mental was founded in 2019. The project was born out of my own necessity. In 2018, I was diagnosed with PTSD and Derealisation (this is a dissociative disorder where I disconnect from reality and my surroundings). Following this, I was instilled with a need to start documenting my experience in creative ways. I felt and still feel the current narrative didn’t fit with my experience. I wanted to show that people can not only survive with mental differences but thrive. Mental aims to provide a platform to enable and document this.

EN: What was the hardest part of setting up this collective?

AK: It can be a difficult topic to initiate conversation around. It’s very personal and unfortunately still stigmatised. As a result, I experienced some challenges getting people who have not been affected by mental health issues to understand what Mental Project is trying to achieve. This was a struggle as it is/was really important to me that we make Mental Project accessible, not just for those diagnosed with mental differences.

EN: What has been the most interesting part of setting up Mental Project?

AK: We collaborated with a number of independent organisations such as Wells Projects, Tomorrow Creates, Read and Respond and Rumble Theatre. In addition to these larger groups, Mental Zine has given a platform to around 50 individual artists and creatives. Seeing the work they have shared has been a privilege, this element of the Mental Project is the most interesting for me.

(Artist: Charlie Hawksfield, Instagram: @charliehawksfield)

EN: Have you seen a change in approach to mental health since you set this collective up?

AK: One of the effects of the pandemic has been the pushing of many crucial conversations to the forefront of people’s minds, mental health being one of them. There is still a long way to go but there seems to have been some very welcomed movement.

EN: Could you tell us a bit about how you have found the pandemic, how it has affected your collective and the project you ran during lockdown?

AK: Since 2018 this project has been crowdfunded or personally funded. It’s been a low-budget personal operation which has relied entirely on my own motivation and income. Since the outbreak of Covid-19 , the printing, marketing or distribution of the zine which brings together and gives a voice to many artists and creatives with mental differences has been difficult. Due to the restrictions enforced by the pandemic, we moved everything online. During lockdown we ran a project called ‘Within 4 Walls’ which was about sharing creation in isolation. We shared the work of over forty artists and creatives. We thought the project mirrored the premise of the Mental Project - taking a negative experience and from that creating something.

EN: What would you say needs to happen in order to progress our understanding and response to mental health in our society?

AK I believe that one of the first steps that needs to be taken is the creation of space for our voices. This can take many forms such as exhibitions or events (one day), zines or just a small box on instagram. We have to de-stigmatise and reframe mental difference as a strength rather than see it as shrouded in shame. I try wherever possible to think, rather than ‘mental illness’ of ‘mental difference’. Whilst use of language seems sometimes contentious and ever changing, I do think there is something to be said about thinking of yourself as ‘ill’ or ‘disordered’. As with physical differences, I think people who overcome the challenges presented and learn to cope with their differences should be applauded, not ostracised by the very definition of the term.

EN: Have you or your collective ever faced any stigma in regards to mental health and projects surrounding it?

AK: Absolutely. Personally, I experience it all the time. The world isn’t currently adapted for people affected by mental difference. I always think about the world before ramps for wheelchair access. Until that legislation to provide for wheelchair access was passed, Britain was hugely hindering accessibility for what is now 1.2 million people. Although there is still a long way to go for physical disabilities it was a start. I don’t know what laws would need to be passed to start this chain reaction for mental health, but this is why I think we start with the conversation.

EN: The zine editions are themed, and have included topics such as addiction. Can you talk to us about your choice of themes, and the process of creating a zine around one issue?

AK: The themes we have covered so far have been chosen quite randomly. We aim to cover all eventually but we have started with more commonly known differences, addiction, anxiety disorders etc.

EN: What issues would you like to cover in future editions, and why?

AK: As mentioned before, we want to cover as many as possible. Mental difference is endlessly complicated and nuanced and documenting these disorders is too. I would like to make sure we cover mental differences across the spectrum.

EN: Do you think mental health now is worse than it’s ever been and why?

AK: Very hard to say. We are talking about it more now than ever before which may make it seem as though it is a greater problem. There is also differences in terms of the causes of mental differences eg. social media. However, it is very hard to say if it is better or worse.

EN: Are worried about the end of the pandemic period?

AK: Personally, terrified. Derealisation affects me more than 80% of every day. It is heightened when meeting new people, in pressurised situations. I am somewhat lucky that the lockdown has seemed to lessen my symptoms however as life returns to normal, I am apprehensive. But trying to remain positive… Perhaps it will offer more opportunities inspiring my writing and drawing. Who knows?

EN: Do you have any tips for people suffering with their mental health at the moment?

AK: To create. Create something from it. Write, draw, sing, paint, take photos. Even if it’s just for you alone in your room. If you can try to make something from your suffering. Bless’d are the cracked for they let in the light!

You can find Mental Project on Instagram: @mental.project.