A memoir of our event with Festival of Debate - 'How can we rethink mental health?'

In May, we held an event in partnership with the wonderful Festival of Debate which graces Sheffield every year with over 60 events exploring important economic, environmental, political and social issues.

To quote the Festival of Debate:

‘A better world is possible. By taking the time to share, listen and understand each other, we can chance the things that matter to each of us, together. Difference doesn’t have to mean division and success doesn’t rely on the failure of others.’

Our event ‘How can we rethink mental health?’ aimed to get us thinking about how can we rethink how we understand and support people experiencing mental health difficulties and distress.

We had rotating table debates and a table activity. Giving everyone the chance to visit all the tables with the following talented speakers and topics:

Ellie Wildbore: ‘Risk adversity/talking about taboo’
Ben Dorey: ‘Reclaiming the meaning of madness – a look at mad positive thinking and why medicalising human experiences falls short’
Mo Mackenzie: ‘A medical professionals’ way of dealing with a mental health illness’
Ursula Myrie: ‘An impossible truth – shining a spotlight on the hidden truths of mental health in the black community’

Activity, Robyn Fletcher: ‘How do you think the following could be more mental health friendly?’ we looked at Education, Faith, Home, Hospital, Police and Work. Using pictures and post it notes to articulate our ideas. We collated the feedback from the activity here, which had some brilliant responses: Education, Faith, Home, Hospital, Police and Work. Perhaps we can all take something away from the feedback from this activity?

Thank you to everyone who came and joined in with important discussions.


A quote from Ben Dorey:

‘This event gave me a chance to speak about matters of madness very close to my heart in a public place, without the risk of being silenced, ridiculed, or seen as ‘symptomatic’ for sharing views very different from the dominant narratives around mental health. I learned so much, both from other presenters and the attendees who brought their own knowledge and experiences to the discussion. In the days leading up the the event I had periods where my energy for the fight for mad people’s rights had waned or I had started to doubt deep held convictions, affecting my whole sense of self and identity. This event reaffirmed the importance to me of carrying on the conversation, sharing our stories and finding strength in each other.’

A quote from Mo Mackenzie:

‘I thoroughly enjoyed the event – I am in a bit of a difficult place at the moment and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to take part or be mentally “in the room” if I did – but I was fully there and enjoyed every minute of it (of which there were definitely not enough!). We could have definitely filled a whole afternoon – the conversation at the tables really flowed and as Ben said, was challenging and interesting and though provoking in equal measure. It made me think more than I thought it would. Super well organised by the Flourish team too, everything went like clockwork really!’

A quote from Ellie Wildbore:

‘The fact that I was able to tell my story to five different groups which produced five different discussions was very thought provoking. It just shows that talking can produce totally different outcomes to what you have in your own thoughts. I didn’t know what to expect from the event and felt a little under pressure, totally self-inflicted, to produce some magic wisdom. But building throughout the event I felt just talking was the magic wisdom and not some philosophical quote. Debate, talk, discuss, chat, blurt out, engage, whisper whatever you want to call it just do it.’

Feedback on Ursula Myrie – ‘An impossible truth – shining a spotlight on the hidden truths of mental health in the black community’

‘It was great to see Ursula giving an insight into the black community, and the reasons why it is hard for them to integrate because of culture, obviously a brave lady in her community.’
Danny Webb

The event overall:

‘The event was really brilliant for making me realise the different pressures on different people. For example race and mental health.’
Cerowyn Browne 


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