With a nickname courtesy of MH advocate and author Johnny Benjamin, the Mental Wealth Festival in London, a unique exploration of how we can all strive to grow our own mental wellness, is entering its fourth year. So who better to speak to about the abundance of support the festival has received so far than its creative director Tina True, who explores why events like this are becoming a vital catalyst in breaking down stigma
By the time you read this, the festival season will be in full flow. People up and down the country will be camping, dancing, singing, sharing stories and starting conversations, potentially with people they’ve never met before. One of the best things about a festival is this complete break from the 9–5, away from the city streets with the space to wander, dream and learn...
But could it be even better? This month, you can experience a festival of a different kind, right in the heart of the bustling streets of London. With music and movement – but mostly an opportunity to hear from and talk to artists, professionals, practitioners and advocates about how we can not only live, but thrive with our mental health. The line-up includes: In Conversation with Grayson Perry, Eye Spy: A Visual Journey through the National Gallery, Singing for Everyone and Life Drawing and Mindfulness. And that’s just at a first glance.
This is the Mental Wealth Festival – named because its focus is on how we grow our wellness rather than solely how we “battle” mental illness. It began as a nugget of an idea in 2015, during a conversation between Tina True of City Lit – which provides educational courses for adults in London – and Danny Curtin of Beyond Words (an organisation that provides books and training to support people who find pictures easier to understand than words).
“I wanted to have a conversation with the staff and students at City Lit about mental wellbeing, but it was a deeply uncool subject at the time,” says Tina.
“Danny and I got talking and realised that we both wanted to find a way of looking and speaking about mental health which would provide people with actionable advice and best practice, with a focus on the positive possibilities and how to help yourself to stay well.”
And so the concept of the Mental Wealth Festival began.
Tina was delighted that the idea was given the immediate go-ahead from City Lit’s principal, Mark Malcolmson, and in partnership with Beyond Words – and so she began to organise the first festival. Tina was shocked by the support she received upon its announcement.
“The response was overwhelming!” Tina explains. “I was inundated with emails from people offering to speak and support the festival for free, as they still do – and it sold out within days. There was more interest than we could have imagined.”
One of the major changes in the festival’s short lifespan, Tina reflects, is the public’s attitude to the subject of mental health. “It’s an easier conversation to have now, people are much more open to speaking out. There’s still a long way to go though and we need to remember that.”
Looking closely at the programme, it’s clear that the festival addresses a wide range of topics, needs and challenges – spanning highly political issues around provision and care, to deeply personal reflections and experience sharing. The arts also play a major role in the festival – not just because the National Gallery is a venue for the second day – but as an important element of the self-care toolkit, the festival encourages participants to develop from what they hear and participate in during the two days.
Chatting further with Tina, I understand that, although there is no shying away from the big topics in mental health, the feeling of the festival is energetic, inspirational and eclectic. Last year, mental health campaigner and author Jonny Benjamin called the festival “the Glastonbury of mental health”. Tina laughs at this: “It is! Although in the middle of London.”
I congratulate Tina and her team on the festival and tell her I look forward to attending. I’m already sure it won’t be the last year I do.
Monday 10 September
- The first day will be held at City Lit with a focus on mental health in the workplace, and with the date coinciding with National Suicide Awareness Day, there will be an audience parliamentary event to discuss suicide prevention.
Tuesday 11 September
- Day two focuses on mental health in the family and community, held in London’s National Gallery.
What can I expect?
- There’ll be a plethora of talks and workshops for festival-goers to choose from, including Suicide Prevention, The Courage To Change, Writing Back to Happiness, Arts, Health and Wellbeing for Future Generations, and My Kids and Social Media.
- Expect to hear from Grayson Perry (ticket only), Bryony Gordon, Jonny Benjamin, Hope Virgo, Laura Hearn, Rachel Kelly and more.
Hero photography | Colin Hart