Thursday, 13 October 2016

We have power as creatives? What will you do?

Graphic by @MendoncaPen
World Mental Health Day on Monday 10th October was marked by the London and Home Counties branch of the British Psychological Society with an event at the London College of Fashion on Mental Health Issues in the Fashion and Creative Industries.  The evening was chaired by Dr Carolyn Mair, - CPsychol, AFBPsS. Carolyn was wearing both of her ‘hats’ for this event;  one as Subject Director  of Psychology at London College of Fashion and  the other as Chair of the British Psychological Society’s London & Home Counties branch
The diverse panel represented  both fashion, Caryn Franklin - MBE, MSc, Professor of Diversity in Fashion, Kingston University and Rosie Nelson, model and health advocate, and mental health professionals, Dr David O'Flynn - Consultant Psychiatrist at South London & the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust with a special interest in the Arts and Dr Annmarie Rankin - Clinical Psychologist at Chelsea and Westminster hospital in the field of paediatrics and a former ballerina with, among others, the Royal Ballet Company.

Carolyn began the evening with an introduction to the issues that WMHD is aiming to address in promoting discussion around mental health and what we can do to support mental wellbeing. The extent of the problem specifically in the world of fashion was highlighted by a report in Dazed magazine which cited that whilst one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year that increases by 25 percent if you’re working in creative job.  The panel explored existing mental health issues in the fashion and the arts. The emphasis was on the toll that the demands of the fashion and creative industries can have on the wellbeing of employees and consumers.
The pressures of working the fashion industry with long hours, high expectations to create the next big thing, the stress of balancing the creative drive with the business of making money and the demands of being ultra-thin, were all touched on during the evening.

Four main themes emerged:
  •          Body image and eating disorders, the impact on models and the general population and similar issues in dancers. How can we change this?

“Stigma is all of us. In speaking out I’m standing up for others.”
                                                                               Rosie Nelson
  •          The relationship between mental health and creativity, the negative view of tortured genius. How art can help.

            “Art makes people better” Dr David O'Flynn
  •         What we as consumers of fashion can do, diversity, sustainability, outsider fashion.

           “Trends are Choices”  Dr Annmarie Rankin
  •          The potential for harnessing fashions power to enhance well-being both inside and outside the industry.

“We have enormous power to embolden and make a significant contribution.”                                                                                                    Caryn Franklin

Rosie shared how working in fashion as a model impacted her mental health, the constant pressure to be thinner, to question what was wrong with her body and how widespread the issue is. Many models are still children when they begin their careers, a time when they are forming their identity. Rosie has chosen to speak out about this issue but acknowledges how tough it is to do so. The panel attempted to come up with ways in which the tiny sample size that all models are expected to fit into could be changed. It would take the whole business of fashion to agree and there is no cohesive organisation that would be able to take that decision.
The fashion world’s responsibility for eating disorders and body-shaming was spoken about at length by the panellists. Annemarie commented that the fashion industry doesn’t cause eating disorders; they are more complex than this.  Body image is a fundamental part of our sense of self and our identity, the fashion world needs to recognise the responsibility they have to use this influence in a positive way and become part of the solution, rather than being the problem. Rosie is pushing for new laws in the UK to promote a healthier modelling industry.
Annmarie drew upon her experience as a young dancer to comment on the effects of body image and self-esteem.  Importantly she drew attention to the fact that BMI, and low body weight are not always indicators of poor mental health; it is possible to be a fit, emotionally healthy dancer and be very slim. Annmaire also shared positive stories of dance being utilised to assist well-being. There are many studies which support the role of dance to increase well\-being from both the position of participating in dance practise and as a spectator.
David is  Chair of the Adamson Collection Trust, Patron of Raw Material Music & Media, Co-Founder/Director of Innovations in Investigating Mental Health Population Outcomes (IIMHPO) and Trustee/Company Director of the Bethlem Gallery. He shared his views on the way in which creativity can be a contributing factor in recovering from mental ill-health, echoing Grayson Perry’s statement  that -

Art should not be viewed just as a visual culture but as an essential human process of self exploration and communication”

In order to develop innovative strategies to deal with the issue of mental health in the fashion and creative industries it would seem to make sense to harness our natural assets, to get in touch with our creativity and reassess our own measures of success. These are values that Caryn explained were fundamental to her role as ‘Fashion Agitator’ to reform from within the business of fashion. She advocates that consumers seize their power and shop according to the values that they hold. Perhaps if we squeeze hard enough; apply pressure from the bottom up with which trends we choose to buy into, and target those public figures who have the ability to change from the top down, a balanced diverse version of fashion will reflect the art of caring.  The many high profile fashion insiders who have experienced mental health issues could begin to challenge the stigma by sharing their  stories in a manner which shows that it is possible to recover and maintain a prominent position in the industry (of fashion). We hear of the tales of severe breakdown that has led to the sad deaths of some fashions most creative talents, such as McQueen, but where are the accounts of how it is possible to creatively traverse the inherent stress of the business of fashion?

On balance much of the discussion was around the negative impact of being involved in fashion. There was little dialogue as to how being involved in the arena of fashion can be a force for positive well-being, or how as an industry it is attempting to take care of the well-being of those inside. What can we do to create a culture of positive mental health that could well lead the way to other industries? As creativity is at the heart of what fashion’ is’ how can we apply those same skills to providing innovative imaginative interventions to provide solutions to the problems that working and studying in fashion appears to produce. And how does fashion education prepare its students to enter this ‘unhealthy’ world?
Questions from the audience followed the panel debate. The final question was how can we de-stigmatize mental health?” This gave David the chance to highlight how the way in which HIV treatment is now so effective that the physical impact from the condition can be mitigated where-as the damage done to individuals suffering from HIV, is because of the “fear of the other”; the impact on their mental health. That is shocking fact. We need to create a society where by openness takes away the power of the secrecy of mental illness, where we can talk about our own struggles without being scared of the repercussions. And the fashion and creative industries can influence this. 
This enlightening event highlighted that diversity is alive and kicking in the creative industries, we just need to tap into it in order to create well-being. The event was summed up visually with a creative and colourful graphic representation by Pen Mendonca. I feel that the strongest element in her depiction is “ART AN HELP”. It can and it does. Let’s celebrate that.
Reflecting on the event I recalled a comment made at a previous seminar at LCF, Tim Lomas, positive psychology lecturer at University of East London, issued a statement on the power of fashion to drive change:

“The most damaging thing is to think that a situation can’t be changed or challenged, and we can challenge and change situations through fashion.”

I left LCF on Monday evening with an even stronger desire to bring about change through the vehicle of fashion.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Can You REMAP life with MAPP(CP) at UEL?

Here’s why I believe that studying MAPP(CP)  will REMAP your life and  produce copious amounts of wellbeing:
(Martin Seligman - PERMA)

I am halfway through my  MAPP(CP) journey, I have been  collecting together my reflections on the last six months and thought I’d ask my fellow Mappsters for their thoughts on studying Applied Positive Psychology at UEL.

Positive relationships are at the heart of a life of wellbeing. Partners, friends, family, colleagues, those people you regularly spend time with. The time and energy you invest in cultivating significant relationships will manifest in a life of greater wellbeing. Basically it’s other people who increase our happiness.
I have found the main benefit to my wellbeing from being part of this MAPP tribe has been to do with relationships; I have never meet a more supportive bunch of people whose curiosity, intelligence, kindness and drive enthuses me for the future of PP. I cannot wait to see the results that my colleagues produce with their research and how their ideas will develop into tangible ways to further wellbeing. 

 “You'll meet the best people ever.” Angie

We are also in an enviable position to have great staff who produce exciting research and are enthusiastic about the students’ areas of study; they create a sense of belonging to a discipline that ‘practices what they preach.’

“If you have any concern, email Rona. She is the kindest and the most helpful teacher I have met.”  Lucie 
However, as Andrew pointed out, the structure of the course doesn’t allow for much time on campus to interact. We all have our own ways around this, Andrew suggested we:

“Talk to each other. Use the Facebook group (or another one you create for yourself) to debate or share ideas and articles. Also, consider using something other than Facebook (e.g. Slack) because Facebook is really bad for you!”

I have found setting up a slack group works for my group. We have organised it so that we have threads for events, sharing papers, posting where we are supposed to be when on campus and a gratitude thread. We all know that expressing gratitude is favourable and sharing our thanks with each other is also fun.
We also have a face-to-face meet up group. We initially set it up to co-coach each other but soon realised that it is a great way to support our wider needs. This course is intense, it changes you, at times its stressful; we all need to remind each other that it will be OK.

I would say trust the process. At times you will feel totally overwhelmed with the assignments but that is all part of the process. And don’t forget to rest!!” Sanna Välttilä-Wit 

And Lucie offers support if you need help with SPSS (

“Relax when you attend the statistics lecture. It is not you if you feel you don't understand, even me who had a solid background in stats, they lost me! Just ask your supervisor what kind of test you need to choose and then focus your research on this only test.”

As an on campus student I appreciate the distance learners have their own set of challenges -

“If you are a distance learner, try to connect with others - DL or on campus - it feels very reassuring to be 'together' in spirit at least. I would also recommend trying to get on campus for at least one weekend, ideally more. Face to face is positive, clarifying and you get to meet real people!” Paula

The course has also impacted on my existing relationships, as a full-time student time management is crucial, not everyone in your life will understand your need to put studying before them. I have a large colour -coded wall chart in my kitchen with all my university dates and commitments to independent study mapped out, my family can then request slots with post-it notes where there are gaps and when friends come by they can fill in the spaces with another colour post-it. This may seem a bit OCD but it enables everyone to see that I’m not fobbing them off. And the end goal is marked with a big get together to say thank you for all the support I have received from family and friends.

Tip: relationships on researchgate and are also important.

When your attention is fully focused on a task, hobby, work or person, when you are totally in the present moment, you go into a state of mind called flow. In this state you lose track of time and forget about almost everything else, including your own sense of self. Mindful awareness encourages you to cultivate your ability to focus and you get into this engaged state more often.The more often you are in flow, fully engaged the more likely you are to experience wellbeing.

I haven’t fully engaged with every topic in every module but when something has ‘clicked’ with me I have wanted to know everything there is to know about it. At times I have tipped from engaged to over the top obsession. For me this is most apparent in my dissertation research. I love my research topic. I am living my research topic. I became so attached to it that I had a period of about ten days when I think I may have been suffering from ‘research mania’. It wasn’t pleasant. I had to be pulled back to reality by a close friend who pointed out that there were other things to talk about!
This is a tricky one: research is MEsearch, we all need to be passionate about our topic to sustain the process; it is a long journey. And one in which we need to get lost before we can find the path we need to be on.
So be engaged but listen out for signs of obsessive passion. Losing sense of time is good but remember to re-engage with others to maintain balance.

I was drawn to PP to find a way to apply wellbeing theory to myself but also because I really trust that it is a cause that’s bigger than me; that the science of happiness is working to improve humanity’s lot in some way, whether on a grand scale or small steps we can make a difference.
I think that working out your own niche within PP can be a useful manner in which to look at your own feelings about a meaningful life. I have had to confront my personal biases, certain topics have certainly aroused strong antagonistic emotions…hmm that’s interesting, what’s that about?
Second Wave PP has forced me to observe my responses to negative emotions; really acknowledging my reactions when I have engaged mindfully with this course does not always feel good. There have been tears, anger, and frustration. I have learnt first-hand that there are times when expressing ‘negative’ feelings can have positive outcomes.
(On this note many MAPP(CP) students expressed frustration at UEL administration- but we can all step back and understand that our feedback leads to change. My experience is that the staff are always available to listen to issues and respond to them as best they can.)

Achieving a goal makes you feel great. Being mindful along the way to that end result makes it enjoyable and emphasizes the importance of the journey to the achievement. Clarifying which goals are important to me, focusing on those that are achievable, breaking the goal into tangible steps have saved me from feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of doing a MSc.

Andrew has some tips on achieving this:
“Download Mendeley if you're not already using a reference manager. Read the first 'core' text that's recommended for each module, but then pick and choose what else you read. Read as much as you can, but don't get bogged down in trying to read everything”

Getting to the end of this course will be a massive achievement that I’m planning on celebrating with a party (see relationships).  I also give myself a pat on the back with each assignment turned in. We encourage each other on our slack group or Facebook when we have ticked off each step towards this accomplishment. We also remind ourselves of the value of what we are doing, not everyone can achieve this goal, and we need to take time to give ourselves credit for embarking on this challenge.

Tip: I have found google scholar just as helpful as more complex search options. 

Positive emotion: 
Joy, hope, curiosity and love, these emotions are important to enjoy in the present moment and are an essential element of wellbeing. You can’t feel happy all the time or pursue pleasure at the expense of meaning, and you won’t when studying MAPP(CP), but there will be ample opportunity for experiencing positive emotions on this course.
Applying positive psychology interventions to yourself, being joyfully playful with your research, feeling constantly curious about what is going on, and loving everything … and everyone that you encounter…sometimes in a blissed out OMG way. (That’s not just me is it?) You may also get a sense of extreme positive emotions when you get your marks back, when you go to the pub and when you finally find the paper that advises the very research study you have designed. Oh yes and mastering how to cite correctly, how to input data into SPSS and why IPA isn’t Real Ale are also moments of joy. Curiosity is aroused every time you search for a room change, it’s not obvious to me, and hope whenever you turn-it in, fingers crossed.
But mostly it’s love; and often its self-love, that you have got this far, made this choice and having a great time building relationships that will be part of your life for a long way ahead.

By applying research-based approaches to wellbeing we acquire the necessary skills to flourish and live a life of promise, purpose and fulfilment. As  MAPP(CP) students we learn how to flourish by combining mindfulness, character strengths and other PPIs by engaging in our work, acknowledging  a higher sense of meaning and purpose, understanding physical and psychological wellbeing, and improving our  relationships. I am very grateful to have had this chance. Thank you UEL.

However last word to Andrew:

“Remember that a lot of what you'll be taught will probably be debunked within 10 years! This is new science, and quite sexy, and a lot of researchers are a bit too quick to get their TED talk about their latest discovery. There's a serious replication issue with a lot of this, so don't take anything you're taught as being 'settled science' - it isn't!”

Actually I will have the last word: You don’t need to be a scientist, settled or otherwise, to have something worthwhile to contribute to PP. I think the future of PP lies in its openness and inclusivity, the way in which as a discipline it is looking to share and collaborate in order to create tangible applications that cross boundaries. This is great for me as I’m just looking to make people happy when they get dressed every day!