(Blogpost) Mental Health Awareness Week: Art on Tour chats to IPSUM

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and as we approach two months of lockdown there’s no better time to think about our own mental health, as well as that of others, and consider the ways in which creativity can contribute to good mental wellbeing. So we thought we’d catch up with our friends over at IPSUM!

We originally planned to join them this weekend at the Arts and Wellbeing Festival, Pop-Up Gallery in tow. With plans temporarily disrupted, IPSUM’s Director Julie Mattinson has told us a bit more about the charity, what they normally get up to, and how they’re adapting to lockdown.

Art on Tour: Julie, can you start by telling us a bit about IPSUM and your aims as an organisation?

Julie Mattinson: IPSUM is a mental health charity that focuses on the creative arts, music and talking therapies. Our aim is to compliment the statutory agencies and other charities by offering a creative ‘outlet’ to express difficult feelings and emotions.

We have always believed wholeheartedly in the power of creativity and its benefits to mental wellbeing and we are privileged to see first-hand how using the creative arts can really save lives. As an emotional language, the creativity can help us to express important and often difficult feelings at times when it feels that there are no words available to us.

Our creative services are also complemented by our 1-1 counselling provision. We have a bank of over 30 experienced counsellors who support us on a volunteer basis. IPSUM is privileged to have a very experienced music therapist as well as couples and 1-1 counselling. Our service provision is not only unique to Swindon, but also to the South West.

We offer a person-centred approach so when engaging with individuals, we spend time getting to know them to find out ‘where they are at’, where they want to get to, and how we can best help in line with their individual needs and interests.

AoT: How important is the link between creativity and wellbeing? 

JM: Creative Arts can be beneficial to mental health in so many ways, in its simplest form it provides a distraction that can give the brain a much-needed break from any negative thinking, having to concentrate and focus on a new task can act as a healthy form of escapism. Learning any new skill but particularly a creative one can stimulate positive feelings and can help individuals express their emotions when they cannot find the right words.

Artistic creativity and expression work as an effective therapeutic tool because it’s such a powerful medium, which can affect so deeply our sense of identity, culture, heritage and spirituality. In this way people of all ages and circumstances can connect with ‘Self’ and others. Creative Therapy uses this connection to engage the client and encourage them to connect with the world and express themselves, facilitating positive changes in emotional wellbeing and communication.

AoT: In what ways do your services help people to get creative?

JM: IPSUM has developed a range of creative therapies to complement its core professional counselling, harnessing the power of creativity and activity to engage with people through its creative arts programmes which include music, arts and crafts, creative writing and poetry, and mediation and mindfulness.

Creating art groups, therapeutic creative writing groups, getting involved in our monthly radio show or engaging with one of our music intervention groups has proven that in the company of others, has many healing properties, and the support that service users offer each other gives them a sense of belonging.

AoT: Can you tell us more about the radio show?

JM: IPSUM has its own Mental Health show on the local radio station Swindon 105.5. The show is created, produced and engineered entirely by our service users, who meet weekly to discuss within a group setting each month show contents. The show is made up of interviews, group discussions, poetry, music, songs and Raps, all created within IPSUM interventions. This not only serves as a platform to learn new skills but allows confidence, self-esteem and social skills to grow.

Our therapeutic writing or creating a piece of music has also served as a coping strategy for many of our clients because it is a powerful way of communicating difficult feelings and emotions in a safe way that doesn’t feel as direct as talking therapies if they are not ready for that yet.

AoT: We’re particularly struck by how this way of working is a unique and beneficial offer for your young service users. Can you tell us a bit more about that?  

JM: We have learnt that engaging with teens and students is challenging, and we needed a ‘hook’ to grab their interest, which was the founding rationale behind setting up the digital music studio. We have a fully equipped Music and Art studio which is complemented by a Digital Audio Workstation studio. This is now one of our most popular activities with our younger clients.

We developed a digital audio workstation programmes for all, but specifically for working with young people who have behavioural or emotional difficulties and those recently released from HMP.

The evidence shows that if we reach young people who are most vulnerable, then the impact of this support can improve their self-esteem and encourage them to make healthier life choices. Also, ex-offenders are a high-risk group for reoffending and often there are underlying issues around why they have taken the path that they have, the Studio 1 programme along with our talking therapies can have a real impact on their future.

AoT: Where are you based? And how can people access IPSUM during lockdown?

JM: We are based at 13 Milton Rd Swindon SN1 5JE but also outreach into the community.

Our creative music programmes are primarily based on our premises, in our professional custom-built sound studio. They can also be created in an outreach setting, taking the music and recording equipment into the community to encourage involvement in musical production and performance: in schools and colleges as well as youth clubs, village/church halls, and other local community premises.

We regularly visit the inpatient mental health unit at Sandalwood Court to help alleviate stress and improve mental wellbeing through music jamming and drumming sessions. 

IPSUM continues to support our service users through telephone and social media. We are still doing assessments on the telephone, and key working with those that are vulnerable and in need of added support.

We have tutorials and lots of opportunities to get involved on our social media sites and our YouTube channel, and we remain accessible on the telephone – 01793 695405.

AoT: Do you have any advice for how we can look after our mental health during this tough time?

JM: It’s so important that you keep your mind and body healthy. Going for walks, talking to friends and loved ones, watching your favorite programmes and films on TV and getting creative. Try something new or something that maybe you have forgotten you used to enjoy.

Baking, sewing, writing short stories or poems, painting/ drawing, are so therapeutic and a great way to keep our minds active.

Don’t forget to talk about how you are feeling if things start to feel too much there is a lot of support out there including IPSUM.

AoT: Before we went into lockdown, you were planning a big Arts and Wellbeing Festival. Are there any plans for a version of this in the future?

JM: The Arts Festival has been put on hold until October (date to be confirmed) as the plan was to bring the Swindon community together. As not everyone has social media and our desire to support loneliness and isolation, we felt the best plan was to wait until we have clear guidelines from the government to ensure all can get involved.

Is there anything people can get involved with online now?

Yes, here’s our call-out…

We will be part of the Swindon Wellbeing and Art Festival celebrating mental health week, which is to take place until Sat the 23rd of May.
But that means we need a little help from you.
Our theme for the week is ‘CREATIVITY IN LOCKDOWN’ which we know you all have already been doing and sending us lots of wonderful creativity, but we need even more.
If you are stuck for ideas we have 3 mini themes which are ‘NATURE’, ‘EXPRESSION’ and lastly ‘ROOM/JUST A VIEW (what do you wish you could be seeing? Or what is outside your window)’.
Absolutely anything you are doing is amazing to see from singing, gardening, art work, baking, poetry, dancing and many more things!
You can send them to us on admin@ipsum.care or message us across on our social media.
We look forward to seeing your creations- The Ipsum Team

AoT: Thanks so much Julie!

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