Debs Taylor, Expert by Experience and Peer Project Support Officer, Creative Minds, describes the impact of attending Creative Minds’ art classes in her recovery from mental illness.
I’ve been in the mental health system from the age of eight. I was on 21 tablets a day and bedbound for a lot of the time and my children were my carers. So I thought I was doing a favour to the service and certainly to my children to release myself from the pain and suffering that I was living day in day out. Six years ago, I took an overdose. I wanted to end my life. I couldn’t see any way forward and I thought that was the only answer to my mental health problems. I was referred by the Crisis team to see a psychologist. While I was sat in the psychology waiting room, I saw a leaflet Creative Minds Art for Wellbeing. Never done art before, don’t know why I picked the leaflet up but I picked the leaflet up. I went along and that’s the day my life changed. I started to do art, started to gain confidence, started to gain ability, people were actually talking to me not at me, people were asking me what do I want, how do I want things to be.
So, in the five and a half years of me doing the art class, I’ve sold 113 paintings, I’ve had an exhibition at Canary Wharf in London, I do talks all over the country about my journey. From one of the talks I was nominated to go for tea with the Queen, I did turn it down because I don’t like tea, but things like that don’t happen to invisible service users like me so I was expecting somebody to start laughing at me. I did go to Buckingham Palace and I had apple juice, so it was all okay.
So not only has this improved my life I’ve been off medication for four and a half years now, I’ve been out of services for 18 months and I now work for Creative Minds, which is an NHS Trust South West Yorkshire Partnership Trust and while I was ill I was told by a psychiatrist I would always be ill, I would always be medicated, and I would never work again, and I believed that psychiatrist. I’d been medically retired from my last job and I was on benefits. So, I had no reason not to believe him. When I started the art, and started to feel like there was a fire in my belly I started to do talks to service users about my journey to inspire hope in them and, suddenly, these professionals were asking me if I would do talks at their events. So, the talks I do are to inspire and to educate. I often think what will people get out of it? Will people listen to this invisible service user, this person who’s been a nobody for most of their life, but the main thing I want to bring about is that you don’t need to be a professor, a doctor, an expert, you don’t have to have letters before or after your name, the one thing you need is passion.
Not only has this difference helped me, it’s improved my children’s lives, obviously they’re no longer my carers, and last year I got to see my eldest daughter graduate with a law degree. I know it’s exciting for any parent to watch their children graduate but when that child has had their education on hold to look after mum that really means something, but it’s not only my family who has benefited the community has too. I’ve worked with Yorkshire Ambulance Service on the Crisis Care Concordat and the Critical Friends Network and it is important to me to keep getting out there and helping to change services and to improve things for people with mental illness. I want people to succeed and I want people to remember that success is very different for one person to another and my level of success was once to get up out of bed, then it was to go to the art class, to stay at the art class, to succeed at the art class and get home without having a panic attack, that was my success. Success to me now is being asked to stand here. One simple art class has done so much. I’m off benefits for the first time in fourteen years, I work in the same Trust that that psychiatrist told me I’d never work again for, which is really interesting on the corridors, but it’s about showing people the positive side to mental health.
That art class cost less than £2,000 for two years, we were paying £2,500 on one year’s medication alone, that’s regardless of the other treatments that I was receiving. So, I would like to say to you six years ago I thought suicide was the only answer to my mental illness, I’m living proof that it’s not. I’m living proof that social prescribing can and does change not just one life but very many.