It Made You was an initiative of the Twilight Programme at SPMHS which works to promote positive mental health and wellbeing through creative exploration and expression. At the heart of the programme is a collaborative process between service users, professional practitioners and external arts organizations. The programme also strives to promote mental health awareness and destigmatisation through its arts initiatives, holding advocacy as one of its core objectives.
It Made You aimed to engage service users of SPMHS in a creative songwriting process through which their individual stories about life, love, loss, strength and recovery could be given form and voice through the safe and evocative medium of song.
The project further aimed to capture and project into the wider community, the incredible talent, expressivity and creativity that is witnessed daily in SPMHS, creativity that when nurtured develops into something beautifully compelling. It Made You aimed to become a tangible symbol of the recovery journey – symbolic of all that exists beyond diagnosis, symbolic of how the beauty of the arts can lift us beyond everyday challenges and adversity.
Sean Millar facilitated 10 songwriting workshops over 10 weeks within St. Patrick’s Hospital with Twilight Programme co-ordinator Paula Higgins (music therapist).
Sean describes the process: ‘There were usually about ten people, sometimes more, sometimes less. Normally it takes about three of these with one group to get enough input to create a lyric but because of the nature of the people attending sometimes I only met people once. Sometimes they came back. People were in very different places emotionally and mentally. Over the years, I have developed different techniques for helping people to contribute. I try and avoid democracy and aim instead for complete inclusion. This means that something from absolutely everyone who attends is included. I ask simple and banal questions. I don’t ask people to discuss their illness but rather to describe situations; some people include or reference their mental health situations in these descriptions but usually it’s the details of ordinary life that become the crux of the lyric. I ended up with the bones of a lyric, and sometimes with the bones of a tune. I then spent some weeks reworking them to make them flow and feel like actual songs, writing chord changes and melodies etc. Five of the songs on the record were made this way. The energy is spent in maintaining everyone’s individual participation and inclusion – encouraging and supporting their response, demonstrating that everything is valid, everything they have to contribute is worthwhile, trying to make them believe that or understand that, maybe even sometimes just getting them to hear that.‘
The other four original songs were contributed by songwriters Kevin Nolan, Aoife Cullinane, Brendan Carvill and Cillian Gavin following their own experiences with mental health services at SPMHS. Gavin Glass came on board to produce the record which was recorded in Orphan Recording, Inchicore. According to Sean, ‘Without Gavin Glass’s incredible work as a musician and producer we wouldn’t have this beautiful record. The project changed completely when he became involved.‘
Kevin Nolan, Aoife Cullinane, Cillian Gavin and Brendan Carvill performed their own songs on the record; the other five songs were performed by Sean Millar, Gavin Glass, Paula Higgins and Jack L.
The title It Made You was chosen because it was felt that it summed the process up: ‘an approach towards mental illness that sees it as multi-various and complex but also a universal struggle. It was just one of the many truths that emerged. I encouraged the idea that we didn’t have to be literal in our lyrics, that things could have many meanings. The person that you meet is the product of many processes. The worst things that happen can, occasionally, lead to positive outcomes. That can happen. It’s just one truth that was expressed.‘ – Sean Millar
The artwork for the album was contributed by artist Conor Pearse Hall following his own experiences with mental health services at St. Patrick’s.
The project resulted in an album of nine original songs which was launched on 30 September 2015 by Radio DJ Tom Dunne and CEO of St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services, Paul Gilligan. The album was released on 1 October 2015 and reviewed by Hot Press as ‘an excellent collection’.
A Live Concert for First Fortnight Mental Health Arts Festival took place on 9 January 2016 in St. Patrick’s Hospital. This full production of all nine original songs featured performances by Sean Millar, Paula Higgins, Kevin Nolan, Aoife Cullinane, Brendan Carvill, Cillian Gavin and special guests Mary Coughlan, Liam Ó Maonlaí and Clara Rose Monahan. The concert was attended by over 200 people. SPHMS has been a partner of First Fortnight since 2014.
You can listen to the album here: http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/it-made-you-online/
The project was evaluated by the co-ordinators of the Twilight Programme at St. Patrick’s Hospital who collated and considered service users’ feedback, artist feedback, audience feedback, staff feedback, community feedback and their own reflective journal entries.
First Fortnight Mental Health Arts Festival evaluated the live concert using audience feedback forms.
The project was found to have huge impact in terms of individual service user experience, artist experience and wider community experience. The trajectory of the project from service user engagement to wider artist engagement to open community engagement via First Fortnight was found to be very effective as was the overall approach used i.e. collaborative songwriting using authentic engagement within a therapeutic framework.
St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services CEO Paul Gilligan commented: ‘The project demonstrates how connecting with our creative selves can help us overcome even the deepest challenges and can lift us beyond the everyday to experience the beauty of the arts. The final CD is not only enriching and inspiring but serves as a symbol of the fulfillment of the recovery journey.’
Contributors to the project have said that it was a transformative experience in terms of how their original input became a powerful tangible art work. Numerous people including musicians, singers, songwriters and artists experiencing mental health challenges contacted the Twilight Programme after the album release to comment on how it had resonated with them on a deep level.
The album continues to impact current service users and the wider community through its use in other projects (see below).
Documentation and Dissemination
The album went on sale at St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services in September 2015. It was distributed to radio stations throughout the country and received extensive air play in Dublin City including Walk in My Shoes Radio, Today FM, TX FM and RTE Radio 1.
The album was distributed to mental health services across the country in December 2015 and presented at the Music and Health Seminar in Rua Red Arts Centre, Tallaght on 23 October 2015. Tracks from the album are currently being used for a new radio documentary drama project taking place at SPMHS – a collaboration between service users, The Twilight Programme and community arts practitioners. The album also features in a short documentary, Aubade, recently released and exploring the life of Kevin Nolan and the relationship between his music and his mental illness.
All proceeds from the album went to St. Patrick’s Mental Health Foundation’s Walk in My Shoes campaign.
St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services
First Fortnight Mental Health Arts Festival