Mad Pride Interview: “Stigma does still exist and we need to keep chipping away at it”

By Shaun Ponsonby
Fri 20 April, 2018

As Mad Pride take over District for a free arts event promoting mental health awareness, Ally Goodman talks to Claire Stevens at Liverpool Mental Health Consortium

Returning to its stomping ground in the Baltic Triangle for a third year, Liverpool Mad Pride – Circus of the Absurd will take place at District tomorrow (Saturday 21st April).

Mad Pride arrived in Liverpool two years ago as a creative, passionate and political platform to celebrate madness in all its forms. It is about as far removed from the conference-style events expected to address mental distress as could possibly be imagined.

Mad Pride is a global mass movement, including users of mental health services and their allies, seeking to reclaim terms such as ‘mad’ and ‘nutter’ from misuse.

It aims to educate on potential causes of mental illness and the experiences of those who use mental health services; but most of all, it celebrates and stands in solidarity with those who experience any form of mental distress.

Ahead of tomorrow’s event, Planet Slop spoke to Claire Stevens from Liverpool Mental Health Consortium about Mad Pride and the changing attitudes to mental health.

Planet Slop: Mental health is thankfully getting much more coverage in the news and being spoken about a lot more in the last couple of years. Why do you think the taboo is finally shifting now?

Claire Stevens: There are probably lots of factors!

Partly, it’s to do with organisations such as Liverpool Mental Health Consortium who have been plugging away at the issue for over 20 years, challenging stigma, being visible and holding ‘the system’ to account.

Social attitudes have gradually shifted in relation to all sorts of things and people are talking much more about issues around the likes of gender, sexuality, racism as well as about physical and mental wellbeing. It’s great that we’re able to talk more about all of these things and to recognise that mental health, like physical health, exists on a spectrum. It’s something we all have and it’s something we need to look after as best we can – and to support each other with too!

But it’s also worth saying that the fact it’s talked about more by celebrities and public figures doesn’t necessarily translate into reduced stigma for community members, and with reduced funding available & cuts to services, it doesn’t always feel like people are taking it any more seriously.  We shouldn’t get too complacent – stigma does still exist and we need to keep chipping away at it.

PS: How important is it for cultural events like Mad Pride to exist alongside more traditional music and arts festivals?

CS: We think it’s really important! Obviously, traditional music and arts festivals are great and can be enormously rewarding in all sorts of ways but sometimes they can be a bit daunting to people who are feeling anxious or isolated, or who find it hard to deal with crowds.

That’s why we’re working with eight other Liverpool festivals through our Lunatic Fringe project (click here) to look at ways of making the experience more friendly for people experiencing mental distress. Through our own Mad Pride event and Liverpool Mental Health Festival, which is coming in October, we want to provide free, welcoming events that reach as many people as possible, provide a range of fun, informative and creative opportunities and keep challenging the residual stigma that exists.

PS: We’ve seen many words reclaimed and appropriated in recent times by marginalised groups. Are you hopeful that words like ‘mad’ and ‘nutter’ can be next on that list?

CS: There’s no reason why they shouldn’t. They’re the sort of words that all of us can use on a daily basis without really thinking about the implications.

However, they can be very hurtful to those who experience mental distress. Why not reclaim them in the way that many in the LGBTI+ community have reclaimed the word ‘queer’? It’s controversial to some but others find it very inclusive. The debate will doubtless continue but we want to be part of the conversation and, after all, it’s good to talk.

PS: What can people expect at Mad Pride and which acts are you most looking forward to seeing on Saturday?

CS: People can expect a safe and welcoming atmosphere. Fun, music, cabaret, burlesque, drumming, light shows and more – including the chance to create and use your own hula hoop or poi!

It all has a circus theme and actually coincides with the anniversary of 250 years of circus in this country. Liverpool Mad Pride day is also World Circus Day! So, if you’d like to dress up in a circus-themed costume then please do. There’ll be prizes for the best dressed! But, if dressing up isn’t your thing, then come as you are – you’ll be very welcome! Everything’s suitable for all ages.

There are so many great acts that it’s hard to pick a favourite. Suffice it to say that with music from Mamatung, Loose Moose and our headliners Chanel and the Circus who come all the way from LA; cabaret and burlesque from The Secret Circus, Freefall Circus, Leebo Luby and more, we’re all in for a treat!

The event concludes with an outdoor parade and a drumming and fire performance from the Beat It! drummers – a ‘drumming for wellbeing’ group which we’ve worked on with Katumba – and the excellent Bring the Fire project.

PS:  Where can people go to if Mad Pride inspires them to talk about their own mental health experiences?

CS: There are various places we’d suggest. If you’re looking for information about local mental health services and wellbeing activities you could start by looking at the Wellbeing Liverpool directory (click here) or calling Healthwatch Liverpool on 03007777007 – they’ll be able to talk you through the various options and how to access them.

If you’re looking for talking therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) you can refer yourself to Talk Liverpool on 0151 228 2300.

Children and young people can contact YPAS (click here) or have a look at the Fresh website (click here). PSS offer various peer support groups via their Wellbeing Centres (click here) and WHISC provide services aimed at women (click here).

Finally, we run our own Well Connected group which meets monthly at the Brink (Click here).

Mad Pride takes place between 3pm and 9pm tomorrow (Saturday 21st April) at District. Entry is free.

You can find Mad Pride on at the following social media destinations;