Mental Health and Justice Commission: Recap

There have been a lot of exciting developments recently in commission for the Mental Health and Justice Project. At this stage I thought it would be helpful to write a recap for those of you who are new to my blog, with more updates on their way. 

Back in 2019 before the pandemic, I was invited by Bethlem Gallery to become part of their Mental Health and Justice project as an artist researcher. The project, funded by Wellcome, is based at the Institute of Psychiatry Psychology and Neuroscience, at King's College London. It looks at challenges that emerge where mental health and mental healthcare interact with principles of human rights. As a part of the project, my focus was to be on advance directives.

An advance directive is a document written by someone with bipolar, setting out how they would like to be treated and if they become unwell. Many people with bipolar say that when they are unwell, they lose the ability to recognise that they need treatment or hospital admission. Advance directives are written with the support of clinicians and family / friends - it includes what treatments have been helpful in the past, for example particular medications, or going into hospital. The key issue is that decisions written in the advance directive will be stuck to, even if when unwell the person later disagrees.

I worked with researchers Tania Gergel and Lucy Stephenson at Kings College, who were very generous with their time in having discussions with me around directives, exploring some of the practical, philosophical and ethical issues that arise. Central to their research was a survey of people with bipolar, asking if they thought directives were a good idea or not. The resulting answers were incredibly varied and eloquent in their perspectives. You can read more about the research on the Bipolar UK website.

During lockdown, I began making my own work in response to the research. You can read more about my work on this blog in earlier posts. The project has clarified my approach to artistic research. I explore complex philosophical and medical subjects with sideways associations rather than always a direct logical path. 

Lockdown has highlighted the vital importance of collaboration with others in my work. The next stage of my research is meeting with people who experience bipolar in a series of art workshops. We have had incredibly valuable and sensitive conversations whilst creating. I will share more about this in a separate blog post.

I am very excited about the future of this project, keep an eye out for more updates.