Mental Health Awareness Week: Sound Minds

‘Breathe Music’: mental health support and confidence building through weekly music activities at Sound Minds

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (10–16 May 2021), we had a quick chat with Paul Brewer, CEO of Sound Minds, the Battersea-based mental health charity that transforms lives through music, film and art. Its well equipped studios are available for rehearsal, courses, practice, one-to-one tuition and art projects. 

Paul Brewer is a founder member of Sound Minds and has been CEO since 2003. Paul began as a guitar player for afro pop band ‘Chisza!’ before working for the NHS as an occupational therapy professional manager and group analyst and managed a Community Mental Health Team. Paul plays guitar and bass, makes films and is a qualified teacher. He has written widely on group dynamics, the arts and mental health and peer support.

Wandsworth Art: Hello Paul! Thanks so much for chatting to us. Can you introduce us to what Sound Minds does and what it stands for?

Paul Brewer: We’re a charity who want to improve the lives of people with long term mental health issues through arts participation and peer support. The majority of our staff and volunteers originally came to receive the service they now help to deliver. Guided by the people who use the service, as well as a range of arts opportunities, (recording, rehearsal, a choir, filmmaking and music tuition) we also run a peer support service for people in hospital and upon discharge.

WA: Although conversations around mental health and illness are becoming more socially acceptable, it remains a difficult topic for many people. In your view what are the persistent misconceptions about mental health that if we could bust once and for all would make a difference?

PB: Anyone can experience mental health issues – and actually everyone does to some degree – but some people still seem to find it hard to empathise with someone in a bad place mentally. That becomes harder with some more unusual experiences such as psychosis, but talking to people and showing you are trying to understand is immensely helpful. No one is ‘beyond reach’.

WA: For those who might not describe themselves as ‘naturally creative’, how can we each tap into our personal creativity to support our wellbeing?

PB: It’s a bit of a cliché to say we are all naturally creative, but this is true. As children we are all encouraged to express ourselves, but as adults we become self conscious about this, denying ourselves the benefits. If that sounds like you, it might be helpful to try reconnecting with your creativity in the company of like-minded people who you don’t know too well, maybe at a class or online.

WA: According to mental health charity Mind, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. What’s a step we can take to support ourselves and each other this Mental Health Awareness Week?

PB: As above: talk! If you are feeling stuck yourself, find a trusted friend or professional and talk about it – don’t suffer alone or feel embarrassed. If you know someone who is going through a difficult time, be a listening ear. Problems don’t always have to be ‘solved.’ More often than not just hearing someone out and being there is enough to make a huge difference.

WA: How can people get involved with/support Sound Minds?

PB: We mostly work by referral from community mental health teams and other mental health organisations. We are always on the lookout for long term volunteers with both people skills and arts skills (particularly music technology at the moment.) You can find out about volunteering opportunities here.

Sound Minds has just started a combined art/photographic/film project in the run up to this year’s Wandsworth Arts Fringe (25 June – 11 July 2021). Finding Strength in Small Things is an exhibition of photo artworks from Sound Minds studio project artists at a pop-up gallery space. The exhibition follows a series of workshops led by artist Sam Haynes and photographer Alejandra Carles-Tolra. The exhibition will reflect on the artists’ experiences over the past year, focusing on what helped them to battle the boredom and loneliness of lockdown. Sound Minds will be reflecting on issues of well-being, with local screenings of a documentary made by Paul Brewer, showcasing the exhibition alongside interviews and insights from the contributing artists.

A 2010 programme about Sound Minds for Ruby Wax’s BBC Head Room series to inform people about mental health issues and recovery.