First Fortnight: Mental Health Arts Festival
As festive decorations around the country are dismantled and stashed away for another year, we prepare to head into the least-anticipated month on the calendar. January can be a bleak time and difficult for most as we return to normality following the Christmas season, which is why the First Fortnight festival, running until January 17th, is well-positioned to encourage some much-needed discussion about mental health issues, and to challenge the associated stigmas and discrimination through the medium of the creative arts.
The volunteer-run festival is now in its 6th year and the only one of its kind in Ireland. This year’s schedule of events features live music, film, theatre and visual art – all selected to facilitate discussion and understanding of mental health problems. Bronagh Gallagher, Lenny Abrahamson, We Cut Corners, former rugby star David Corkery, Eleanor Tiernan and Conor Cusack are among the artists and personalities taking part. Key events include the Irish premiere of a new documentary on US musician Elliott Smith; acclaimed theatre productions My Name is Saoirse, Eleanor Tiernan’s National Therapy Project plus a nationwide tour of Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank.
RTÉ TV and Radio presenter Eoghan McDermott has also come on board as an ambassador, and had some poignant words to say on his forthcoming role, ‘First Fortnight’s call to challenge mental health stigma is something that really resonates with me. Like many people, there have been times in the past when I’ve been depressed and unsure how to get better or who to turn too. I know what it’s like to feel like you can’t ask for help. I know what it’s like to be embarrassed by your own feelings, but I also know what it feels like to have that weight lifted off your shoulders by talking to someone. Talking helps. There is no shame in experiencing a mental health problem, it happens to a lot of us.’
First Fortnight co-founder and project manager JP Swaine added ‘This is our most interesting and provocative line up for the festival to date and one which we hope leads to new and interesting reasons for people to talk about mental health. Conversations started by ordinary people are the only way we can change the stigma and discrimination that persists in the area of mental health. First Fortnight hopes to inspire these conversations through provocative arts events.’
The fact that 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health difficulty in our lifetime is a startling statistic and highlights the need for us to take positive action now. First Fortnight is a good place to start, not just for those of us experiencing the post Christmas-slump but for anyone who wants to see a more open and understanding culture in relation to mental health become a reality in Ireland.
The full line-up for First Fortnight can be viewed at www.FirstFortnight.ie
Words: Aoife O’Regan
Pictures: FirstFortnight and Slam Sunday (Kieran Frost)