Director's blog: Coming together in difficult times

A photograph of the sea with a bird flying just above it

The horror of what’s unfolding in Gaza and Israel is affecting us all, whether we are trying to work around it or are deeply engaged. Whenever there is a terrible event, it undermines normal life – when we don’t speak about it, some part of us is always managing this absence. But to speak about it is painful, and complex. We may alienate people; not just those we expect to disagree with but sometimes people we respect and love. 

We’ve been building up to this in recent years – rifts sown by years of half-truths and actual lies from people appointed to guide and lead. Watching events unfold, knowing one thing, and hearing another. And right now in the UK we’re confronting Islamophobia and antisemitism; and a bright light is being turned on our role as a nation; a frequently inglorious history; and a present in which we are deviating from international human rights norms, rolling back on climate commitments, and reliant on the manufacture and sale of arms. These are not easy ideas to live with. 

All of it is creating a pervasive cognitive dissonance. Hardly surprising that we might feel distressed, alienated, lonely. Hardly surprising that there is a crisis in young people’s mental health. 

Speaking solely for myself I respond in different ways. Often I retreat – an old habit; but in better moments, I'm trying to find others and to make some calmer space together; to stabilise relationships, and slowly to try to build new ones. I frequently fail, lose my nerve, retreat again, and need to draw heavily on others' courage. And I am learning from other organisations at the moment: a brilliantly run recent WhatNext? meeting, for example; kindly chaired, creating a space for honest conversations. There are thankfully many groups doing this work of bringing us together (I've listed a few here). I hope CHWA can be one of them this year; we hope to create many opportunities to gather across creative health. We need more than ever to find this solidarity, and comfort, in others. Change moves at the speed of trust, as Amahra Spence said at our conference a few months ago. To build this trust, we need to find some way to speak about what is happening - in the world, and to us. Perhaps some of this speaking can be creative; and much of it can be supported by others. And if we can't speak right now, we can do our best to listen.  


Please do look after your mental health at the moment, however you need to do that. Here are some ideas and helplines:

Mental Health Support

In an emergency, call 999 or go to your local A&E department.

If you live in England, you can call a local NHS urgent mental health helpline for support during a mental health crisis. Anyone can call these helplines, at any time.

These helplines offer similar support to a crisis team. The NHS website has more information on urgent mental health helplines, including how to find your local helpline.

Other things I've come across: