Interview: Pam Abbott on 30 Years of Nottingham's Mental Awareness Health Weeks

Interview: Adam Pickering
Wednesday 05 October 2022
reading time: min, words

Poor mental health can affect anyone at any time, and we’re especially vulnerable during times of hardship, loss or uncertainty. Aiming to reduce stigma and promote greater understanding of the issue is Nottingham’s Mental Health Awareness Weeks, which have now been running for thirty years. With more than twenty events taking place at a variety of locations across the city including cinemas, allotments, and community centres between Monday 10 to Friday 21 October, we grabbed a chat with the event’s Chair and Coordinator Pam Abbott to hear all about it...


What’s the history of Mental Health Awareness Weeks (MHAW)?
I think our MHAW was one of the first ones, and this year is our thirtieth anniversary, as it started in October 1992. That was when the very first World Mental Health Day began, and our MHAW was all started by a fantastic group of women, who all had lived experience or were carers working with people experiencing difficulties. There was Rosemary Renouf, Gladys Bombeck and Glenis Brocklebank; the Three Musketeers as we like to call them. They got together in a very small office - as legend has it, in a cupboard under the stairs - and planned a week long series of events to highlight the stigma and discrimination that people with mental health issues faced within society at that time. 

I first became involved in around 2003 through working for Framework and then, around 2005, my manager volunteered me to work with Rosemary and I started working to support her. It was the best thing in some ways, I've been doing it ever since. Rosemary was a remarkable woman, her sister had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and she’d always been involved in her care. When we talk about stigma and discrimination, particularly around diagnoses like schizophrenia, there’s so much labelling, so many myths and stereotypes. 

Rosemary became a lifelong friend. She passed five years ago at the age of 86, but it’s still going strong and I’m really proud of that. It used to be just one week, but that changed to a fortnight quite early on because of the amount of interest from groups and partner organisations.

What can people expect from this year’s MHAW?
We've got the launch at Broadway Cinema on Monday 10 October starting at 4.30pm. Nadia Whittome is coming to open the whole fortnight, which is excellent. And then we're showing Michael’s Story, which is a short film by a Framework service user, and we’re doing a screening of Terry Gilliam’s Fisher King, which is a fabulous film; it's about mental health, trauma and homelessness, and stars Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. 

Then the Trent Bridge Trust have got a number of events that they're doing around mental health, around dementia, around women's mental health and the menopause. We’ve got afternoon tea hosted by Improving Lives. Nature in Mind are doing an apple scrumping day with Ecoworks at St Ann’s Allotments. There’s also a big event at Brewhouse and Kitchen on Wednesday 19 October, which is about lots of organisations coming together and networking. 

It’s a celebration of community, really. After the pandemic it’s just really nice to have a cup of tea and some cake with someone. We lost contact with so many people during those two years, so that’s something I’m looking forward to. It's all about highlighting some of those things that go on all year round, as well as things that are being done specifically for this fortnight. 

What’s your view on the current mental health situation in Nottingham?
Looking back to 1992, as now, it was a difficult time. We’d been through another period of austerity and saw a lot of cuts to services. Things were tough, but they did get better over the next decades. I think, again, we're in a situation now where resources are very short, and that's right across the board - wages, benefits - and people's fears are growing around managing financially, living in poverty, and the fuel crisis. 

There are going to be people this coming winter who are going to be afraid to put their heating on, they're going to be worried about whether they're going to be able to eat properly. I think that that has a profound impact on people's mental health. Then there are wider things like racism, and the wider climate that we've that we're living in at the moment, these societal pressures have an impact on mental health as well. It can happen to anyone though, anyone can develop mental health issues at any point of their life. 

I think by being kinder, by understanding the pressures that society puts on us, and by understanding the absolute devastation that can cause, we can better help those who are struggling. We need to see people as human beings who, for whatever reason, at that part of their life, are struggling. 

Are we any better at addressing mental health issues than we were thirty years ago?
I'm not sure we’re an awful lot better. I think there is still a stigma around certain mental health issues, especially schizophrenia. We know more research links mental health with trauma and past experience. There are lots of campaigns around how it’s good to talk and that sort of thing, but I think fundamentally people who really struggle are the people who often live with very little, and they have nowhere to go to talk about mental health other than people around them, if they have anyone. 

There are positives, of course. There’s more awareness, particularly of the importance of community, and coming together and listening to each other. There was a wonderful project in Manchester which was a barbers who had set themselves up as a mental health hub (similar to Aretê locally and their wellbeing walks). They’re the things that matter - the more we talk about mental health the better. We are better at understanding the importance of talking, and listening, and, particularly from a male point of view, I think things have moved on. I was speaking to one of our event partners and he said he feels he can be open now, and that gives other people a sense of permission to be able to speak out themselves. 

What work is Framework doing around mental health, particularly with those vulnerable to homelessness?
Fundamentally, we still work with people, and often those people have mental health issues, issues with drugs and alcohol and so on. People who have had a lot of things going on in their lives, who often fall through the cracks in some ways with some of the more traditional services. 

I think, over the years, we've evolved into an organisation that understands that people need good quality homes, they need to feel that they belong, some meaningful occupation, whether that's starting off as volunteering, or looking more broadly at employability which is something that has definitely changed. There used to be an idea that if people had profound mental health issues they’d never work, and they were written off. I don't think that that's the case anymore, and I think Framework have been really innovative in those areas where we’re looking at that much more holistic picture. We ask, “What is it that people need to become fully included back in society?” and we address that in lots of different ways.

Finally, how can people get involved in MHAW?
Well, we’ve got the full programme online, or on the orange leaflets around town. I’d say just come along and find out more. I’m also very happy for people to get in touch with me directly, if they want any more information.

Check out the full programme at the Mental Health Awareness Weeks website


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