Mental Health and Creativity

(Above photo: ELBA’s two work experience students from Goresbrook School, Joyce (left) and Rihanna (right).)

During Mental Health Awareness Week, the Challenge:ELBA team were joined by two work experience students. We asked them to write about what mental health means to them. This piece is written by Rihanna Kitoko:

Hello my name is Rihanna Kitoko, I attend Goresbrook School and I am currently in Year 10. For my GCSE’s I am studying: English, Maths, Science, French, Sociology, History and GCSE PE.

I have a passion for discovering new avenues in my life. I enjoy travelling and indulging in other cultures. Thanks to the help of the JDS organisation I was given the opportunity to work with the East London Business Alliance (ELBA) for a week for my work experience. One of my friends, Joyce, also joined ELBA to undertake work experience, alongside me.

As someone who is naturally introverted and relatively shy, I appreciated the effort the ELBA team, especially my mentor Ashley Rice, put into making sure my friend and I were comfortable with everyone and with the adjustment we had to make going into the office for the first time. It was refreshing to enter the ELBA office and to witness pure focus from all of my temporary colleagues. Being in a completely different environment was stimulating and I gained a reviving feeling of independence.

On my first day my mentor talked me through the purpose of ELBA and my timetable for my week of work experience. I learned that ELBA strives to aid and give back to the community. I see that unfortunately as a society we lack a passion to aid those that need support and help, which is why I find the cause of ELBA completely admirable. This week the centre of activities in the office was based on Mental Health Awareness Week. In addition to ELBA, my mentor introduced the Mental Health-based branch of ELBA called WELBA. I would say that the WELBA branch is a crucial part of ELBA, as working a 9 to 5 job that ignores self-expression may be repetitive and mundane and would therefore have a negative effect on one’s mental health.

What does mental health mean to you? To me mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Whether positively or negatively, mental health affects how we think, feel and act. As someone that comes from a culture that does not focus their attention on mental health and the importance of taking care of yourself mentally as well as physically, I had to learn the importance of mental health from external sources, for example at school. At Goresbrook each term my school dedicates an entire day to educating students on mental health and essentially creates a day of PSHE lessons which is, in my opinion, extremely important to secondary students – we will need this information later in our lives, if not right now. I think that as a society we should increase the attention dedicated to mental health issues because we lose so many people to suicide due to the fact that some people in our communities unintentionally ignore mental health issues because it is not always noticeable and because some people lack education on the topic. As someone that has seen first-hand some ignorant views targeted towards the ‘legitimacy’ of mental health issues, I see that it is crucial to educate people on the importance of taking care of your mental health because it has just as much of an effect on your body as your physical health. In contrast I have seen that as a society we are slowly but surely progressing and striving to understand and promote the importance of mental well-being.

I think that, in order to improve your mental health, embracing art and creativity is beneficial. Usually, individuals that suffer from mental health issues lack the confidence to express themselves therefore Art is created as an outlet for these certain individuals to have a voice and awaken a hidden confidence within themselves. Expressing the arts gives individuals the opportunity to self-express and improve themselves as people in productive ways rather than self-destructing. I have seen that by engaging in arts and social activities, we can address important issues such as loneliness, which is the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2022. Creativity can help to boost confidence and helps people to be more engaged and resilient. In addition to these benefits, art engagement also alleviates anxiety, depression as well as stress.

For mental health awareness week at ELBA a variety of mental health-based activities were introduced by the WELBA organisation for example, on my first day my friend and I were encouraged and invited to join and eat our lunch with all of the ELBA employees and try food from diverse cultures provided by the employees. In addition, I was given the task of completing and editing an online game for everyone in the office to get involved. In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, I created a quiz based on facts and statistics that the ‘game-players’ must guess correctly in relation to Mental Health. Furthermore, during lunch on Tuesday my mentor Ashley Rice held an art activity for everyone to engage in, which links back effortlessly to the benefits of art for mental-wellbeing. His creative activity allowed everyone to get together and enjoy art collectively. This week was a week of unity within the office. All the activities were group-based which fitted perfectly with the theme of loneliness. Loneliness is far too common so moments like these are precious, to see everyone come together and communicate was comforting to me. From what I have observed over the week I have seen that ELBA prioritises mental well-being.

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