It is an honour and a joy to be part of this online community, that was set up to bring together people from a wonderfully diverse range of professional and personal backgrounds, all sharing strong common interests in mental health and art. I am a London-born, bicultural woman who works as a psychiatrist, writer and medical expert witness. Throughout my career I have been influenced by the paediatrician and psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicot. In his book, Playing and Reality, Winnicot wrote ‘playing facilitates growth and therefore health; playing leads into group relationships; playing can be a form of communication’. Winnicot also proposed that all creative impulses, ‘are the stuff of playing’ and I think part of my role, as a psychiatrist, as a writer and as a woman looking after her own mental health, is to nurture and encourage creative impulses in myself and in the communities I am part of.
I’d like to share a photograph, taken several years ago, while I was working as a visiting child and adolescent psychiatrist in Opotiki, a small town in rural New Zealand. The photograph is of one of a series of murals painted by the children and teenagers who lived in the town. Young artists worked with the artist Shona Hammond Boys to paint their experiences, communities and hopes. The walls of Opotiki became an extended canvas where adolescents could playfully search for themselves. The public nature of this work meant that the young artists were seen and valued, both during the communal process of muralling and later in the responses from across the nation, through a large public exhibition at New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa.
The murals could be read as documents, and Opotiki visited as an archive, telling an extraordinary story about young artists, but that is not why they were painted. The children and young people who painted on their town’s walls have grown up, but their stories are as vivid now, as when their paint was drying on Opotiki’s walls. These murals helped me see Opotiki as the young artists saw it, and provided glimpses into how they by turn dreaded and were enthralled by, the world around them. This beautiful image reminds me to pay close attention to the creative impulses in all of us and to cherish the spaces, in real life and online, where the arts and mental health can flourish.