Tuesday afternoon in Galashiels, and a building is filled with noise as a series of percussion instruments are struck rhythmically by beaters and sticks.
On almost every wall hangs colourful artwork of contrasting sizes and on varying subjects. A series of guitars hang in another room while a mosaic of hundreds of tiny pieces of tile lights up a compact garden. It doesn’t sound like the old-fashioned mental health institution where a patient would enter and never come out again. Galashiels Resource Centre is as far removed from such stereotypes as is possible.
The Scottish Borders Council and NHS Borders facility tackles mental health by making artwork, jewellery, pottery, food and gardening rather than with straitjackets.
And it appears to be working.
Forty users – referred to the service by either their doctor, NHS Borders’ community mental health team, SBC’s social work department or by voluntary bodies – were discharged in the last year. Around 2,500 contacts were made with patients in 2011, with 68 referrals currently working with centre manager Andy Greenfield and his staff.
Andy said: “We approach things differently from statutory bodies through our creative artworks. We are the only service of its kind that runs in the Borders and we get referrals from across the region such as West Linton, Eyemouth, Newcastleton and Lauder. But the majority are from the central Borders.”
Once referred, the users take part in therapy alongside activities in small groups.
Among the centre’s current projects is Working Matters, which aims to get sufferers working again, either in voluntarily or paid employment. Already a team has put together a printing order for a customer which required them to negotiate pay and meet deadlines. But one of their most impressive achievements will be unveiled later this month, when a huge mural – representing the statistic that one in four people will suffer mental health difficulties – will be hung in Borders General Hospital.
Behind every fourth tile of the piece made by centre users will be the face of a celebrity who has suffered mental health issues, such as Stephen Fry.
Andy added: “Mental health blinkers the way people see the world – we aim to broaden that by introducing situations and events and activities that they would not get into. It then gives them the confidence to go to college and do a course or go to the library and learn about computing.”
Andy admits there is still a stigma attached to the illness, but with the economic climate likely to leave more Borderers jobless, there could well be an increase in numbers passing through the centre’s doors. “I have got no doubt finance plays a part in it [mental health issues],” he said. “We have not noticed a rise in rates of referrals because of that, but we do see people with concerns about the current benefits system and I am sure that will continue.”
He added: “Mental health issues cause people to spend time on their own and, in turn, that causes more problems.”
But with the help of the Galashiels Resource Centre, Borderers with mental health concerns are guaranteed not to suffer alone.