‘Everyone has mental health’ - Georgina Hossang

Cry Club provides a temporary environment for the local community to utilize as a safe space to engage in therapeutic activities which would usually be unavailable. The system was developed in collaboration with fellow students during my time studying BA Design at Goldsmiths. Following meetings with employees of Mind, we discovered that they felt the need to create a stronger connection to the wider community; especially young people and those who are often not exposed to mental health services. We were also able to engage with some of the service users at this centre and therefore experience first hand the types of group therapeutic sessions currently offered.

There is no doubt that these services are critical in helping people deal with their mental health issues however we soon realised there was a lack of mental health education in the UK creating a stigma around the subject. This feeling was further reinforced upon attending the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health’s lecture at the Wellcome Trust headed by a panel discussing mental health in psychiatry, urban planning and transport.

Whilst experimenting with the concept of what mental health was to us as both designers and service users we began to develop the concept of emotional objects which are designed to evoke both emotional and physical responses and therefore help the user consider the ways in which mental health affects them. Inducing emotion played a critical role in this area as we created methods of artificially creating laughter and crying in a user.

Portraying the physical signs of emotion brought us to a point through which we could push no further and it became clear we needed to branch out further and from this Cry Club was formed as a way to explore methods of alternative therapy but it quickly evolved into something far bigger as we discovered how beneficial it was to us. The sessions were open to all and advertised across the university, taking place in an private room every Friday morning. The sessions were structured to split the participants into groups of 5-6 starting with 15 minutes of silent reflection in which people were encouraged to think about anything that may be troubling them and were also reminded that this was a safe space to cry and voice their emotions. It came to our attention that some found the use of personal music players, drawing or writing helpful in this period and so this was actively promoted. Post reflection all participants were encouraged to discuss any thoughts with others offering support and many times words of advice. Making sure everyone left on a positive note after this intimate time, fake laugher acts as a catalyst for contagious laugher, very quickly becoming real and honest. These sessions closed with dance; an oportunity to release all inhibitions and displace embarasment. They proved so successful that we took them out into a more diverse environment.

We expanded Cry Club through taking its structure to a new demographic and space in Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre which allowed us to trial the service we had created with a wider variety of people. Initially we looked at a varied range of potential spaces from high street shops to community centres, bars and parks but settled on Elephant and Castle as it allowed us to utilize an environment with a lot of foot fall in which we could construct our own space. We erected a marquee and filled it with soft furnishings to act as a safe space for those attending the sessions but most importantly we removed ourselves as leaders of the sessions by using a pre-recorded set of instructions to guide the participants, this allowed all involved to feel a united sense of control. Finishing the sessions with laughter therapy also worked greatly to our advantage as it drew a lot of attention to what was occurring inside the marquee and in turn brought more people in to try the sessions for themselves.

To clarify the value of Cry Cub to the community we got in touch with Dr H. Clements who submitted this professional response in which she fully supported the idea and the idea of it being used a tool in the wider community:
“My name is Dr Hannah Clements, and I am a Specialist Clinical Psychologist currently working in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). I work with young people up to the age of 18 in the community and in a secure children’s home. I have worked in mental health services with people across the lifespan; with mental health difficulties, health and learning disabilities for the last 10 years. Over my time training to be, and then becoming a Clinical Psychologist I have noticed considerable changes in the way we understand mental health, our treatment approaches and the types of presenting problems we are seeing as providers. Despite some encouraging growth in how we understand and treat mental health problems, there still remains a great deal of stigma and a great need for education. The concept of Cry Club encompasses many known important factors in mental health Recovery. The Recovery Movement in mental health has seen a great emergence over the last few years, and focuses on the personal journey of each person with mental health issues. It centres on hope, community, empowerment, social inclusion and meaning (living a values‐based life). Most importantly, Cry Club offers people permission to sit with other people and be entirely present with how they feel. In our society we are constantly distracted and young people, especially small children are becoming less and less able to tolerate ‘just being’. Cry Club promotes ‘being rather than doing’. Social media and access to mobile phones means that children are not learning how to tolerate being bored; always looking for the next distraction. If a programme such as Cry Club could be offered to children at a younger age, it might communicate to them a number of important messages. It tells young people that it is OK to feel emotions, that they are not alone and that all people struggle at times, and it offers a space that has the potential to be fun and supportive. Lots of young people may also prefer an approach like Cry Club, which offers group support (which might feel more approachable than one to one) and a balance in its embracing of difficult emotions, as well as positive energy. I think that any conversations and ideas for how we talk about and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health can only ever be a great thing, and I would personally happily support any such positive conversations and reflections.”