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UKRI funds first mental health awareness audio tour of the National Gallery


UKRI funds first mental health awareness audio tour of the National Gallery

The Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, has funded the first mental health-awareness audio tour of the National Gallery, launching today on World Mental Health Day.

Researchers from King’s College London and the McPin Foundation have co-created the audio tour with a group of young people including some affected by mental health issues, alongside members of the Gallery’s Young Producers programme.

The audio tour which is available free to visitors for 6 months, aims to improve understanding of mental health among visitors to the Gallery, providing an opportunity to see its collection in an alternative way. The tour draws on young people’s experiences of mental health and connects these with the Gallery’s paintings in order to challenge common myths about mental health and immerse visitors in the experiences of the young creators.

The tour invites the listener to consider their views on mental health and reflect on their own wellbeing as they are guided round the Gallery. Visitors will be able to focus on paintings by Van Gogh, Cima, Crivelli and Joseph Wright of Derby as well as the Gallery’s architecture and figures from its Portico entrance mosaic flooring such as Virginia Woolf and Churchill.

Project leader Dr Helen Fisher, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s, says ‘Mental health remains misunderstood in UK society, with many people affected by mental health issues left isolated and unsupported. It is wonderful to work with young people on new and creative ways to encourage public conversations about mental health, so that everyone feels more comfortable asking for help and talking about how they feel.’

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, says: ‘Talking more about our feelings is crucial for improving mental health and removing the stigma that surrounds it. Half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and we need to understand how the complex interplay of genetics, upbringing and environment contributes to this. By supporting the audio tour at the National Gallery, we hope to spark new conversations and highlight the importance of research in preventing and treating mental health problems.’

Each year, the National Gallery opens its doors to over 6 million visitors from all over the world. Open to all, it serves a very wide and diverse public.

The audio tour is available as a smartphone app, created by Antenna International, so that visitors can simply plug in headphones and be guided to different stops in the Gallery.

The content of the tour was created through workshops with 16–25 year olds, several of whom have lived experience of mental health issues, supported by the McPin Foundation. The views and experiences of these young people were then matched with artworks and spaces in the Gallery by Dr Fisher and members of the Gallery’s Young Producers programme, which aims to build the relevance of the Collection for young audiences.

Young Producer Amber Goneni says: ‘As Campaigns Officer at Arts SU I was excited to be involved with this project as I've seen first-hand how many of the myths discussed in the tour negatively affect people's ability to seek and receive help. The Gallery will be the perfect place for the quiet contemplation and honest reflection of the themes of this tour.’

Young Producer Aleks Orehova says: ‘We all look at paintings differently and it’s thrilling to offer the public a new viewpoint on art and mental health. As a mental health nurse outside the Gallery, I think it is crucial to provide public space to connect and empathise with the voices of young people experiencing mental health problems.’

Niamh Elam, member of The McPin Foundation’s Young People’s Network, says: ‘When I was given the opportunity of being a part of creating this audio tour, I took it with open arms. As the meetings went on we undertook a variety of tasks to map out the tour. This involved discussing the paintings and the emotions they evoked in us in relation to our own experiences. The overall experience is one that enriched my mental health and knowledge of art.’

Anna Murray, the Communities & Access Programmer at The National Gallery, says: ‘This is a wonderful initiative to raise mental health awareness through the National Gallery’s Collection. By offering an audio guide which focuses on people’s responses rather than art historical interpretation, it will provide visitors with a new way of seeing our pictures and challenges some of the myths surrounding mental health.’

The audio tour launch follows the news this week of a £35million landmark research investment into Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind through the government’s Strategic Priority Fund, delivered by UK Research and Innovation.

Read more about the tour from Dr Helen Fisher in her Medical Research Council blog

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