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Wednesday 30 October 2019

The Readout

Reducing suicides around the world

Mental health is a global concern, as our recent ThinkIn at the Museum of Lost and Found Potential demonstrated

By Polly Curtis

“From crying so much, I learnt how to smile,” said Ana Maria Heilbron, a United For Global Mental Health campaigner. Ana Maria was telling her story for the first time and in an extraordinary place: an exhibition, which she helped to create, documenting the deep struggles and the personal victories that people with mental health problems face all over the world.

This exhibition was the Museum of Lost and Found Potential, arranged by the global Speak Your Mind campaign, and the venue for a Tortoise ThinkIn earlier this month. Seated among the exhibits and stories displayed at the Museum – some of which are shown below – we discussed the solutions to a problem that cuts short hundreds of thousands of lives every year and that leaves many millions more feeling isolated, wretched and alone.

Together, we discussed the need for an “action plan” for addressing mental health. It starts with sharing our stories, leads to awareness-raising, then challenges the stigma, before creating political action to make access to therapy and medication more widely available.

All of this needs to be bolstered by support from our communities. Where in the world can we look to as a leading light for this kind of change?

We heard about New Zealand, which has committed $1.9bn to mental health services. But those taking part said that continuing to pour money into the system as it stands won’t make the biggest difference. The country needs to use that money to reform the way in which mental health patients are treated at every touch-point in the system, from the emergency services to local GPs.

There is a stigma attached to mental health all over the world, but there are certainly places where that stigma is more acute. We heard stories from India, Nigeria, and Liberia about how the discrimination faced by those with mental health problems has prevented them from seeking the help that they need. Times are changing, however, and we want to understand what can be done to shift perceptions about mental illness in societies around the world.

Throughout the conversation we spoke about pain, but also about hope reflected in the exhibition and stories that surrounded us. Here are the stories from the exhibition.

Jazz Thornton, New Zealand

Jazz had an extremely challenging childhood. As a teenager, she attempted suicide multiple times and was homeless for a while. The last time she attempted suicide, she formed a life-saving relationship with the police officer who came to support her. Jazz has since rediscovered her self-worth and has become a mental health campaigner in New Zealand, advising the government on their recently announced, unprecedented $1.8 billion mental health and wellbeing budget.

Jazz’s lost and found objects in the Museum are: an Auckland police badge, a school sheet with grades, a letter she wrote to her suicidal self, and a tree branch.

“As someone who nearly lost her life to mental illness, being part of this museum means so much to me. I battled with suicidal tendencies, PTSD, depression and anxiety for many years, and, having now come through the other side, I love being able to tell my story in a way that provides hope and provokes change.”

Cecilia, Ghana

Cecelia was struggling with her mental health but didn’t understand what was happening. After an episode, she was diagnosed with acute psychosis but she became stable and returned to work. Shortly after, she relapsed and, when her employers found about her mental health condition, she was fired. After multiple relapses and losing friends because of her condition, Cecelia was diagnosed with bipolar, found medication that worked for her, and was supported in finding employment.

Cecilia’s artefacts include a Jerry petrol can, nail care equipment, cooking utensils, and a national insurance card.

“I am a person with lived experience of Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD) and enjoy sharing my experience living with BAD with others to help them understand the condition better.”

Joshua, Sierra Leone

When Joshua’s father lost his job, poverty struck his family. Joshua had to go and live with his grandmother. It was a challenging time in his life; Joshua once misplaced money that his grandmother had given him for food for the family and he became so distressed he considered ending his life. He went on to became a qualified teacher and is now a vital mental health campaigner in Sierra Leone.

Joshua’s lost and found objects include: rice-measuring cups, a walking stick, writing pad, and drum.

“The Museum of Lost and Found Potential has afforded me two key opportunities which serve as motivation to tell my story. First, to help other affected persons to know that they are not alone in this problem and that they can overcome their episode and regain lost lives. Second, to bring family and community actors to terms with the reality that preventative care and the inclusion of people with lived experience cannot be attained without their support.”

Allison, Canada

Bipolar has had a huge impact on Allison’s life. She was not able to finish her degree due to the lack of support, and has spent most of her money on medical drugs and therapy for her condition. She was unable to fulfil her passion for making music and had her tubes tied after coming to the conclusion that she would never be well enough to look after children. Her mental health stabilised with support from across her life, including a supportive work environment at HSBC, as well as her newfound mental health routine that involves physical exercise.

Allison’s artefacts are: pregnancy test, a box and ribbons, two motorcycle helmets, a Woman in Black poster, Fitbit, and reel-to-reel tape recorder.

“I live with Bipolar Disorder, but that is not what defines me. Family and friends, travel, music and my career are what define me as a successful, thriving, joyful person. I am proud to be part of the Museum of Lost and Found Potential and for being able to tell my story of challenges I have faced throughout my life experiences.”


Timiebi, Nigeria

When Timiebi was diagnosed with depression at university she didn’t believe the diagnosis, but, after experiencing a panic attack, she started to accept that she was experiencing challenges to her mental health. Struggling to write her dissertation, she moved back to Nigeria. She reached out to Mentally Aware Nigeria and they were able to help her find mental health support services. Before attending, she thought that nobody in Nigeria accessed services like these, apart from severely ill and dangerous people. She was given a ticket when she arrived for her appointment, numbered #140, which made her feel less alone. Since her last session two years ago, she has tried to maintain the coping skills that she was taught in her therapy sessions.

Timiebi’s artefacts are: a ticket machine, food items, dissertation, Bad Boys film.

“I am passionate about mental health education and advocacy. I use the art of storytelling to share personal experiences and, for me, being part of this museum is important as it showcases how mental health issues impact every aspect of a person’s life.”

Deeksha, India

Deeksha experienced a lot of bullying throughout her life, which had an incredibly negative impact on her mental health. She developed strong feelings of inadequacy and a toxic relationship with food. When she was trying to deal with bullying, she developed a skin condition called Hidradenitis Suppurativa. This extremely painful condition added to the mental health challenges that she was experiencing. Depression set in for Deeksha after her grandmother died and she completely isolated herself. She has since received therapy and completed her undergraduate degree.

Deeksha’s artefacts are: cups, loose-leaf tea, a pearl collar, jazz shoes, an iPhone, and clothing.

“Having struggled with depression for many years, I have always felt that it is really important to foster an inclusive environment where people feel safe to talk about their journeys and issues. I chose to be a part of this museum because, hopefully, it will give us the space to start having difficult conversations and help in decreasing the stigma around mental health.”