Andrew Eaton -Lewis: Scottish mental health arts and film festival

SCOTLAND, you may have read last week, is “in the grip of depression”. Beyond the headline, of course, the picture was complicated. Prescriptions for anti-depressants increased by 7.6 per cent last year, but that merely shows that more Scots are seeking treatment for depression, not that more Scots are depressed

That, however, is also a simplification. Another factor is that prescribing anti-depressants is cheaper than it used to be. Overworked doctors may also be prescribing more anti-depressants because it’s quicker to hand out pills than take time to explore why patients are depressed. And it would be odd if, in a recession, depression wasn’t on the increase.

Whatever it all means, it was a fitting week to launch this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, which began as a small-scale weekend event in 2007 and is now bigger than ever, with 270 events across Scotland (film, dance, music, comedy… everything basically) over the whole of October. The festival’s remit is simple – to battle the stigma attached to talking about mental health. It’s quite possible that the ongoing success of this festival is connected to the increasing number of Scots seeking treatment for depression.

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Every year I have much the same reaction to the programme: I applaud its aims but am perplexed by the choices. What does a screening of Local Hero have to do with mental health awareness? According to the festival, it’s a film about “a community bound together by shared experience”. Well, if you’re that loose with your definition, you could include pretty much anything. And what piece of art, in the end, isn’t about mental health in some way, whether it’s challenging us to look at the world differently, or just making us happy?

I suspect the festival asks itself this too, then decides it doesn’t matter. It’s about context, after all. Persuading people to attend a festival about mental health, whether it’s via Local Hero or comedy by Kevin Bridges, is part of the same process as persuading people it’s OK to admit you’re depressed and to seek help. This, for the record, isn’t just a platitude. I’ve never admitted this in writing before, but I lived with long-term, occasionally debilitating, depression from my late teens until my early thirties. I was on pills, on and off, for years, before a year with a therapist finally put me in a healthier, more self-aware place. There, I said it. And so can you.

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