Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2018: programme announced

Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival returns with a much earlier date in the year and a programme focused on the mental health of young people

Article by Jamie Dunn | 12 Apr 2018

Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF), the annual festival shaped by the voices of people with lived experience of mental health issues, returns next month with the festival’s dates switching from the autumn to the spring to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week. This shakeup, along with a focus on young people that chimes with the Scottish Government’s Year of Young People initiative, has inspired a theme of “Beginnings” for this year’s edition. “It felt like a perfect opportunity to explore [this theme],” says Gail Aldam, Festival Manager.

The Beginnings theme is not prescriptive, however. “As is always the case with our festival themes, artists, activists and organisations from across Scotland will all be responding to it in their own way, and we’re very excited to see what they come up with,” says Aldam. “We’re especially pleased to have such a strong focus throughout the programme on young people, who will be helping to shape this and future festival programmes as well as sharing their own stories of lived experience.”

Youth events

Among these youth focused events is KIN: Branching Out, a series of workshops with young people who have personal experience of the imprisonment of a parent or sibling. These workshops bring together a group of 14- to 26 year-olds from across Scotland, and encourage them to open up a conversation about family imprisonment and use their own experience to make art, the results of which will culminate in a two day mini-festival within SMHAF. In addition, Vox Liminis present interactive performance CON(Scripted) at Saint Luke’s in Glasgow, a show that's also concerned with the impact of imprisonment on the prisoner's younger family members.

There’s also filmmaking programme Into Film, which is teaming up with two existing youth film clubs – one in the North and one in Central Scotland – to watch, discuss and explore themes of mental health and beginnings. The events will also have a practical element, with the young people encouraged to create mini-films that will be collated by a professional filmmaker to create one or two feature-length films that represent the Beginnings theme, with the resulting films screening at the young people’s respective schools and in some of the SMHAF programmes. 

There’s a dance element to SMHAF’s youth programme too, with the festival's Associate Artist Emma Jayne Park working with dancer James Fogerty at Hillhead Library, Glasgow, throughout May to collaborate with three groups of pupils from Notre Dame Primary School to create a site-specific dance piece inspired by books for young people.


As has been the case for the last few years, the theatre element of SMHAF is particularly interesting. It includes a run of Mental – the inaugural winner of the Mental Health Fringe Award at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. There’s also the premiere of Skye Loneragan’s Though This Be Madness, described as “a show about new parenthood and mental illness” (The Stove, Dumfries and Galloway, 12 May; Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, 19 May).

Other theatre highlights look to be Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka, in which a young woman battles her anxiety by channeling the high energy spirit of Anneka Rice, a TV presenter for whom no challenge is too big; Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World, which explores Conway’s childhood love of computer games as a way of addressing her relationship with depression; Michael John McCarthy’s Turntable, which is concerned with the influences musical experiences has on us in our formative years; and Fisk, a story of a man and a fish, told through a rich tapestry of puppetry, movement and design by the award-winning Tortoise in a Nutshell. There’s also a contemporary dance piece in the form of Julia James-Griffiths’ The Box.


New book I Am asks an important question: What's it like to grow up as a transgender or non-binary person in Nigeria, Pakistan, Portugal or Russia? The book brings together an international community of transgender and non-binary people to discuss their formative experiences. Contributors to I Am include Adam Kashmiry and Jo Clifford, and to help launch the book at Dundee Rep, the pair's powerful autobiographical shows Adam and Eve, which both premiered to much acclaim at last year’s Fringe, will be staged as a double bill.

Spoken word night Flint & Pitch also bolster SMHAF’s literary strand with acclaimed poet Deanna Rodger leading an afternoon workshop for young performers, before an evening appearance at a special Beginnings-themed edition of F&P (26 May, Saltire Society and Bongo Club, Edinburgh).


Once again, SMHAF will screen an International Film Competition programme at CCA, Glasgow, which celebrates high achievement in filmmaking that addresses mental health. Several of the films fit snugly in the Beginnings theme. Highlights look to be But Honey, You Look Fine, in which a teenage filmmaker documents her best friend’s battle with bulimia; Being Keegan, a drama following a man as he revisits the scene of a childhood tragedy; Horizon, about a teen girl’s anger at the death of her mother; and Rocknrollers, in which three teenage pals and bandmates try to support the band’s frontman through his depression. The International Film Competition programme screens 11-13 May, with the awards taking place at CCA on 10 May.

SMHAF runs 7-27 May. For full details of the SMHAF events taking place across Scotland, head to