The opportunity for new voices to discuss the many meanings of ‘mental health’ was inspiring to the people of South Australia. Here, the dominant paradigm of biological psychiatry pervades. Alternative voices, especially those voices of individuals with lived experience, often go unheard. So, when social media posts reported the upcoming “Healing Voices” global premiere screening events, what was to become the Many Voices Collective was conceived.
A group of people with lived experience and/or people who work in the mental health system partnered with Community Health Onkaparinga (CHO) to host a local premiere. CHO is a small NGO that exists, thanks to volunteers, to bring communities of support together and to promote health and wellbeing in alternative ways to mainstream (i.e. illness-focused) health services. Without expectations for what the turnout would be at a little church hall in a suburb of Adelaide, we proceeded with the event. To our surprise, more than 150 people filled the seats. Beautiful home cooked food was provided by volunteers from CHO, and people were energized to engage in new conversations about what “mental illness” might mean.
“’Healing Voices’ spoke to so many people in our community,” said Matt Ball, one of the founders of the Many Voices Collective. “Whether as a person with lived experience, a professional or a person interested in mental health, the movie spoke to the shared reality that what we call mental illness can, and should, only be defined by the person and the support network he or she chooses. It has given individuals and the community here a new voice… a voice that cannot be silenced.”
The idea of orchestrating a Many Voices Festival emerged from the community dialogue following the screening. Already, the next event had begun, and the conversation was to continue. Fueled by the energy that “Healing Voices” had created, the Many Voices Festival became a reality. It was planned and hosted by volunteers, other community partners, CHO, Country Arts SA (arts agency), tertiary education provider TAFE SA, The Voices of Tali, The Spirit of Alondray, Jesse Rochow, Loren Kate and numerous other artists. Upwards of 250 people came together to continue an evolving conversation. The festival even attracted local and state-wide radio coverage, including a radio interview called ‘Back Stage’. The Many Voices Collective has continued to host many other public screenings across Adelaide and beyond, bringing together new groups of people and a confluence of vibrant ideas. The premiere also inspired blogs that can be found on The Humane Clinic website.
Many Voices Festival Poster, Sept 14th 2016.
2017 promises to perpetuate the excitement and the conversation. The Many Voices Collective has secured a stand at Womadelaide to discuss the film, recovery, and how the wider community can engage in redefining new language with which we might make sense of mental distress. Womadelaide is one of the largest art festivals in the world and is highly attended by around 100,000 each year.
Additionally, the Many Voices Collective is hosting a large public screening as a partner in the wide release of “Healing Voices” entitled RECOVERING COMMUNITY on May 2-4, 2017. We also plan to start a series of “Recovery Stories” evenings where people will be invited to share personal stories in their communities across metro and country areas. It is our hope to advance the development of a network of Many Voices Collectives around the state of South Australia.
Social change takes time, but by way of conversation and the creation of spaces for new meaning-making, a shift toward an open mental health paradigm is gathering pace. It has already spread to new pastures including the public mental health system where the film was screened on World Mental Health Day at the statewide learning centre as part of a Hearing Voices workshop. Plans are even in place to show the film up to 5 times in public mental health system settings in staff trainings on the use of hearing voices approaches.
“Healing Voices” created the opportunity for people to engage in and change a conversation that affects us all. Mental health workers, and other parts of communities that have previously been absent from these critical conversations, are now contributing to the spread of hopeful messages. The space held by the Many Voices Collective (and other groups like it) has challenged the dominant conversation, brought people and communities together, and has marked the beginning of a new social movement in South Australia.
Edited by Sara Catanese, Healing Voices Social Action Coordinator.