During the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, over the spring of 2021, Caroline and I regularly visited the Coborn Centre in Newham to work with the young people living there. During their time together, they generated a series of creative responses to the question, “Why are so many young people struggling with their mental health?”
In order for the young people to remain anonymous, they directed the hospital staff in a series of filmed performances featuring storytelling, music and dance. The work highlights and articulates the young artist’s hopes, struggles, and reflections on failures of the mental healthcare system while detailing the day-to-day experience of lives inside a mental health hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Eighteen months later, in Autumn 2022, the young people and artistic team reassembled and was joined by designer Sascha Gilmour and mental health nurse and artist Fox Irving. During weekly sessions at Chisenhale Gallery, the group began considering how to share the work made during that intense period in the hospital. Central to these public sharings is the embedding of care strategies in order to create safer conditions in which to bear witness to that is complex, fragile and something many of us don’t know how to be with.
For They Let In The Light aims to be “messy, weird, from the heart, angry, honest, tender, fragile, complex, about mental health or not about mental health, urgent, necessary, and silly”. It is an attempt to shed light on what it means to be young and live with acute mental health struggles, the experience of a mental health system that is largely failing young people, and articulate what a more humane and caring one could look like. It is also a celebration of these young artists’ creativity and criticality.
Content warning: For They Let In The Light includes material and direct experiences surrounding mental health, including suicidal feelings, self-harm, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, mental health hospitals and the use of the mental health act, sexual violence and childhood neglect. .