Ahead of the game

Naomi Elster, editor of HeadSpace Magazine, talks to Ellie Gehlert about supporting people with mental health problems through art and writingAlthough mental health awareness in Ireland has seen improvements in recent years, there is still a lack of understanding of  “what it is really like to suffer from mental health issues,” says Naomi Elster, the editor of HeadSpace Magazine.As a magazine that facilitates people with mental health issues to express their emotions through art and writing, HeadSpace aims at offering that kind of understanding. It is distributed to psychiatric wards and mental health support centres across Ireland and publishes stories, poems and art. According to Elster, this is based in the belief that it is often possible “through creativity, to communicate about things too difficult to address correctly.”Apart from raising awareness on mental health issues in society, the primary purpose of HeadSpace is to give people in treatment the hope and strength to go through this experience and to make them feel less isolated. Seeing the problems they are dealing with relayed in a creative way by others who have had similar experiences helps the patients to feel less lonely and offers a new channel of reflection to them.HeadSpace is the first project to offer a forum for artists to publish their works themed around mental health. Elster explains that showcasing these stunning pieces of art and writing from people who themselves have suffered from mental health issue refutes a common misconception; namely “that people who suffer illness are always compromised in their intellect and ability to deal with life, even after they make a full recovery.”For providing this forum, the HeadSpace team has not only received a grant from Rehab Ireland Visual and Performing Arts Fund for the second issue, but has seen media coverage from the Irish Times and Newstalk FM and has gotten an incredibly positive response from its readership.To have the hard work acknowledged and “to have people encourage us to keep going, really does mean a lot to us,” says Elster as she recounts the strenuous months of fundraising to realize the project. “After a while you feel a bit desperate… but it felt too important not to try.”The HeadSpace team are hoping to keep the project growing and are already preparing the new issue, which is to be launched in summer. Submissions for it will open in March, but as Elster points out, anyone can help support the cause by spreading the word, sharing on Facebook, volunteering or buying a copy for just €5. “We are entirely non-profit and volunteer run, so all money raised goes into providing free copies to patients.”For more information on how you can read, submit to, or support HeadSpace, visit www.headspace-magazine.com or facebook.com/HeadSpaceForAll