• ‘Beginnings’ theme will focus on young people and mental health,
supported by the Year of Young People event fund
• Biggest ever theatre programme, includes winner of first Mental Health Fringe Award
• International Film Competition winners showcased over four days
• New book telling transgender and non-binary life stories from across the world
• Festival now runs 7-27 May, coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week.
  • ‘Beginnings’ theme will focus on young people and mental health,supported by the Year of Young People event fund
  • Biggest ever theatre programme, includes winner of first Mental Health Fringe Award
  • International Film Competition winners showcased over four days
  • New book telling transgender and non-binary life stories from across the world
  • Festival now runs 7-27 May, coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week.


The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) today announced its 12th annual programme – the first to take place during the festival’s new dates, 7-27 May.

SMHAF is an annual, nationwide festival led by the Mental Health Foundation and programmed in partnership with communities and organisations all across Scotland. Since it began in 2007 the festival has been shaped by the voices of people with lived experience of mental health issues.

To mark the Year of Young People – and in light of recent research suggesting that half of adult mental health problems begin in childhood – this year’s SMHAF has the theme of Beginnings, and a special focus on young people’s mental health. Scotland’s Year of Young People 2018 aims to celebrate young people’s achievements, value their contributions and create new opportunities for them to shine on a local and global stage.

Highlights of SMHAF 2018 include the festival’s biggest theatre programme to date; the launch of I Am, a new book created in partnership with the National Theatre of Scotland’s Adam World Choir and Freight Design; the return of the festival’s prestigious International Film Competition; and an ambitious, youthfocused programme supported by the Year of Young People 2018 Event Fund and Creative Scotland, which will support and nurture young people from across Scotland to contribute to future festivals as they grow older.


This year’s theatre programme includes a four-night Glasgow run of Mental, chosen by a judging panel of leading playwrights, critics, and programmers as the winner of the first ever Mental Health Fringe Award at 2017’s Edinburgh Fringe. Presented in partnership with Mayfesto, Mental is a powerful show about what it’s like to grow up with a mother who is bipolar. Premiering at SMHAF is Though This Be Madness, a show about new parenthood and mental illness by award-winning theatre-maker Skye Loneragan, with additional, semi-improvised daytime performances for parents with babes-in-arms. The theatre programme also includes tours of four acclaimed shows themed around mental health: Don’t!! It’s Challenge Anneka, a frank and funny show about a young woman’s battle with anxiety, which channels the spirit of a famous TV presenter for whom no challenge is too big; Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World, in which writer-performer Amy Conway draws on her childhood love of computer games to explore her relationship with depression; Turntable, a show by MJ McCarthy about the impact of formative musical experiences on our lives that first toured Scotland as part of SMHAF 2015; and Fisk, a rich tapestry of puppetry, movement and design by award-winning company Tortoise in a Nutshell, in a story about a man and a fish, and the unexpected impact they have on each other.


What is it like to grow up as a transgender or non-binary person in Nigeria, Pakistan, Portugal or Russia? I Am is a fascinating, moving new book describing formative experiences from across the globe, developed in partnership between the Mental Health Foundation, Freight Design, and the National Theatre of Scotland’s Adam World Choir, an international digital community of transgender and non-binary people. Join I Am contributors Adam Kashmiry and Jo Clifford to launch the book at Dundee Rep, in the week that their powerful autobiographical shows, Adam and Eve, are staged as a double bill.


Glasgow’s CCA will be transformed into a hub for film activity from 10-13 May, as the festival screens award winners and special selections from its International Film Competition, (which celebrates high acievement in filmmaking that addresses mental health), beginning with its not-to-be-missed annual awards ceremony on Thursday 10 May (see full list of winning films below). In keeping with the festival theme, stories about young people’s formative experiences will feature strongly, such as But Honey, You Look Fine, in which a teenage film-maker documents her best friend’s battle with bulimia; Being Keegan, a powerful drama about a man revisiting the scene of a childhood tragedy; Horizon, in which a teenage girl struggles with anger and the loss of her mother; and Rocknrollers, a heartwarming documentary about three teenage soul-mates and band-mates trying to support their singer through his depression. Other notable winners include Crazy, a compelling portrait of a schizophrenic man’s efforts to have a say in his treatment, and Maybe It’s Me, a beautiful piece of animation about a son’s relationship with his father.


This year’s festival has a particular focus on events created for, and by, young people. With support from the Year of Young People 2018 Event Fund, managed by EventScotland, part of Visitscotland’s Events Directorate, SMHAF has recruited a brand new Youth Panel, which will inform a series of youth-focused events and create a record of the festival through the eyes of a younger audience. The festival will also work with Vox Liminis on KIN: Branching Out, a series of workshops with young people who have personal experience of the imprisonment of a parent or sibling. Facilitated by (and hosted within) Vox Liminis in partnership with Families Outside, this brings together a close-knit group of 14-26 year olds from across Scotland, committed to making art inspired by their lives, and opening up a conversation about family imprisonment in Scotland, culminating in a two-day mini festival within SMHAF. Into Film will work with existing youth film clubs across Scotland to engage in two one-day events (North and Central Scotland) to watch, discuss and explore themes of mental health and ‘Beginnings’. This will be followed with practical activities to encourage the creation of youth made content that will be collated by a professional filmmaker to create one or two films that represent the themes. The final production (s) will be shared at showcase events within the respective schools as well as featuring in the SMHAF programme of screening events across the country. And SMHAF Associate Artist Emma Jayne Park will work with dancer James Fogerty in Hillhead Library for the entire month, collaborating with three Primary 5 groups from Notre Dame Primary School to create site specific dance performances inspired by books for children and young people.


Flint & Pitch - Internationally acclaimed poet Deanna Rodger leads an afternoon workshop for young performers, before an evening appearance at a special Beginnings-themed edition of the popular spoken word night. 26 May, Saltire Society and Bongo Club, Edinburgh

5 Ways to Begin - SMHAF associate artist Emma Jayne Park curates two scratch nights featuring five works in progress by artists exploring mental health. 19 May, Flourish House, Glasgow; 20 May, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

The Box – contemporary dance theatre by Julia James-Griffiths exploring the impact of depression. 24 May, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

CON (SCRIPTED) – Vox Liminis present an interactive performance exploring the impact on young people of family members being imprisoned. 24 May, Saint Luke’s, Glasgow

Distant Voices: Not Known at This Address – Distant Voices project artistic director Louis Abbott (Admiral Fallow) is joined by some of Scotland’s most celebrated songwriters to launch Not Known at this Address, an album produced alongside people who have first-hand experience of the criminal justice system. Presented by Vox Liminis. 25 May, Saint Luke’s, Glasgow

Youth Mental Health Arts Festival – debut outing for this Beginnings-focused festival within a festival in Renfrewshire. Paisley Arts Centre, 4-6 May

Caring Conversations – Led by artist Josie Vallely with support from See Me and the Mental Health Foundation, this exhibition features work by people throughout Paisley, exploring mental health stigma in health and social care RMHAF Hub, Paisley, 8-24 May

Gail Aldam, Festival Manager said: “This year’s festival is a new beginning for SMHAF, with the programme moving from October to May. It is also Scotland’s Year of Young People, so it felt like a perfect opportunity to explore the theme of ‘Beginnings’. As is always the case with our festival themes, artists, activists and organisations from across Scotland will all be responding to it in their own way, and we’re very excited to see what they come up with. We’re especially pleased to have such a strong focus throughout the programme on young people, who will be helping to shape this and future festival programmes as well as sharing their own stories of lived experience.”

Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt said: “The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival has launched an exciting programme, and in the Year of Young People it is encouraging to see such a focus on opportunities for children and young people to take part. A key theme of the Year of Young People has been ensuring events are co-designed in partnership with young people, so it is particularly pleasing that a new youth panel has been recruited to help shape the programme.

“We want Scotland to be the best country in the world to grow up, and we need to ensure that mental health is something everybody talks about, and that young people feel they can do that without stigma. The arts and cultural events can be a great way for young people to explore and discuss mental health.”

The SMHAF 2018 programme is online now at


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