Chris Milner joined the Fulfilling Lives national evaluation team in February 2019. In his first blog he explores the role of art and emotion in recovery and raising awareness. 

The first Multiple Disadvantage Day took place on July 3rd 2019. The day marked an important stepping stone towards tackling the stigma associated with complex experiences of homelessness, offending, substance misuse and mental ill-health. These disadvantages are so often co-existing that it is essential that they are addressed together, and that we #seethefullpicture. By raising awareness of the reasons behind people’s circumstances, Multiple Disadvantage day aimed to encourage people to think before making a judgement.

My research interests are heavily rooted in mental health care and gender, specifically the barriers which prevent so many people from seeking and getting the help they need. As long as the stigma associated with mental health exists, people will always shy away from admitting what many, wrongly, see as a weakness. Some Fulfilling Lives partnerships put beneficiaries in touch with progressive interventions, which use art, drama and poetry; these engage people in an informal manner which often doesn’t feel like clinical treatment. They aren’t a substitute for counselling, rehabilitation and clinical treatment, but an enhancement.

Events across the country on July 3rd showcased the experiences of those who have seen marginalisation first-hand, on a daily basis. Nottingham, for example, exhibited poetry, photography and a short film exploring the impact of stigma on those who face multiple disadvantage. The Choir with No Name, made up of singers with experience of homelessness, performed in Birmingham New Street Station. Islington and Camden put on a theatre production highlighting the hardships and the accomplishments of people experiencing multiple disadvantage, through their eyes.

All of these events share elements which are instrumental to the recovery of many – the capacity for emotional and artistic expression.

At CFE, we are releasing a series of briefings which highlight the work of the Fulfilling Lives programme and what it has achieved to date. The first two briefings look at the importance of investing in multiple disadvantage and how understanding multiple disadvantage is vital for addressing the issues. The third looks at the approaches which make a difference. Our series shows concisely and clearly how Fulfilling Lives is different and what changes are possible through holistic and flexible care and the support of workers who help beneficiaries navigate the often chaotic landscapes of the justice, health-care and housing systems.

A key reason why Fulfilling Lives has made such an impact, in my eyes, is that it acknowledges the psychological and emotional needs of beneficiaries alongside their practical needs. Art is a highly emotional and individual form of expression and why the inaugural multiple disadvantage day is so representative of the Fulfilling Lives programme and so important. The day gave those with multiple disadvantage the respect and voice they deserve.