Launched to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, which starts on Monday May 15, the Hope Exhibition was commissioned by mental health charity St Andrew’s Healthcare to break the stigma of complex mental health and to demonstrate how hope can have a positive effect on a person’s life.
The exhibition will officially be opened at an event for staff on the Billing Road site, before it tours around Northampton, with appearances at several public spaces over the course of the week.
The display includes portraits of five people who have all been sectioned at some point due to varying mental health difficulties.
Each individual was captured holding an object that holds significant or sentimental meaning to them because it gave them hope along the way. In a separate shot they were captured with a St Andrew’s Healthcare staff member, chosen by the patient for the support they gave along their recovery journey.
St Andrew’s Healthcare’s CEO Dr Vivienne McVey said: “A large part of what we do as a mental health Charity is to help people find some sense of hope. Sometimes finding hope can be incredibility difficult for the people we care for, but hope is that one thing that insists something better awaits us, if we only keep fighting for it.
“Through this powerful photo exhibition we wanted to show that recovery is possible, if you find hope. It showcases the inspiring stories of five people who’ve been in our care and what hope means for them. We also wanted to show other people who may be experiencing similar mental health struggles, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We care for some of the most clinically complex patients in the country, many of whom when they are first admitted think their future is bleak and empty. Our staff are compassionate, empathetic and consistent, they make our patients feel valued and cared for, reminding them that they deserve to live meaningful, fulfilled lives.
“We’re hugely proud of our Hope Exhibition and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have played a part in bringing the project to life, especially the people in our care who have agreed to raise awareness of complex mental health needs.
The exhibition will be officially launched at a Mental Health Awareness Week event at St Andrew’s Healthcare on Monday, May 15 before it is moved to the town’s train station where it will be displayed on the main concourse for two days.
On Thursday, May 18 it will be showcased in the south entrance of the General Hospital, before spending the weekend in the Grosvenor Centre’s atrium space just outside Primark.
Tom Litchfield, Deputy Centre Manager at the Grosvenor, said: “We feel privileged to play a part in displaying such an impactful exhibit within the centre. Mental Health Awareness Week is a brilliant opportunity to further encourage conversation and community support regarding mental health. Through the exhibition, we are positive our visitors will be moved and inspired by the message of hope.”
Northampton General Hospital’s (NGH) CEO Heidi Smoult said: “Northampton General Hospital is honoured to be one of the public spaces displaying The Hope Exhibition for Mental Health Awareness Week. Here at NGH, the wellbeing of our patients and staff is central to everything we do and we are committed to raising awareness and being a safe space for those who are experiencing mental health problems.
“We are grateful to the inspirational people who are sharing their lived experiences and this is an important reminder of how our healthcare professionals are integral to the wellbeing and recovery of patients in our community, as well as helping to break the stigma around talking about complex mental health.”
Clio – who identifies as male - was admitted in May 2022 having already been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. The 23-year-old experienced very strong feelings to self-harm, but said playing the piano has helped.
Clio said: "No one understood me. I felt hopeless. But now, for the first time ever I feel good in my own skin. I am living the life I feel I should be as the gender I should have been born. I am now eager to move on to the next stage of my life.”
Jovel is originally from America, but moved to Birmingham a few years ago. He suffered a major head injury in 2019 after being hit by a train when his glasses fell on the tracks. Straight after the accident he was left with a significant brain injury and put into an induced coma in hospital. He remained in a disorder of consciousness state for just over a year before waking up to everyone’s astonishment, but soon after his medical team realised he had endured a serious long-term brain injury.
He said: “I just realised I wanted to go home so I tried my very best everyday. Never give up. If I can do it, anyone can. My future feels good. I’m going home soon, to eat spicy chicken and go back to my recording studio where I’m going to make music.”
Aged just 46, Darran was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease (HD). His doctors at the time were unsure how to look after him, so he was placed in a care home for older people. There, he grew depressed and ashamed, as he was living with people he had nothing in common with and cared for by those who did not understand his condition.
His depression led him to take an overdose and the weekend it happened Darran was sectioned and started treatment at St Andrew’s Healthcare. He said: "They didn’t know what to do with me so they stuck me in an old person’s home at 46. I felt like my life was over. I’d lost my son and life seemed so bleak. Now, I can smile again – I have found meaning to my life. I’m around people who understand me and I feel like I have a future again.”
Rhiannon has been a patient at St Andrew’s Healthcare for nearly two years. The 22-year-old started having seizures similar to the episodes experienced by those who have epilepsy. Further investigation showed they were caused by anxiety.
Her seizures, which are now very infrequent, can last from just a few minutes or several hours. She has also been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and has been participating in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) which she says has “saved her life”.
She added: “I had a job and I was doing fine and then all of a sudden crippling anxiety struck and that changed everything for me. Without question in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) has saved my life. I am smiling again. I am living again.”
Aged 38, Martin suffered a breakdown in September 2022 and was admitted to St Andrew’s Healthcare’s Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) in Essex where he was treated for just over three months.
A relationship break-up was what caused his psychosis, and it led to very unpredictable and sometimes unsafe behaviour which worried his family and friends. This led to him being sectioned for the first time in his life.
He said: "I had no idea my mental health was so fragile. I genuinely thought my ex-girlfriend was a terrorist and was coming to kill us all. To me, that was my reality."