Using art to help care for mental health

The 10th annual First Fortnight Mental Health Art & Culture Festival is currently underway. EDEL Doran explains its aims and offers a glimpse of some of the events
Using art to help care for mental health

SYMBOLIC: The ‘Rainbows Over Your Blues’ banner encapsulates the aims of the festival

CHALLENGING mental health stigma and creating a space where we can each talk about our mental health challenges has never been more important.

The First Fortnight Mental Health Art & Culture Festival has returned for its tenth year, commencing on January 2.

More than 70 events will take place throughout the month, marking 10 years of challenging mental health stigma, and it aims to kick start a brighter 2021 for all of us.

The 2021 events will primarily be online, and for those attending the festival, registration is necessary for all events. After you register, you will be issued with an access link in advance of show day. All details can be located on

Alison Spittle takes part in the First Fortnight festival.
Alison Spittle takes part in the First Fortnight festival.

“Renowned poet Stephen James Smith, comedian and RTÉ star Alison Spittle, best-selling author and comedian Colm O’Regan and musician and writer Jess Kavanagh are among the names that will be lending their hand to challenge mental health stigma for First Fortnight festival.

Events will look to explore loneliness, isolation and community relatable experiences to many of us in these times. Organisers are encouraging (government guidelines permitting) households, families or house shares to come together, experience a First Fortnight event, see great artists perform, and perhaps as a result, have a conversation in your home about mental health that you may not have otherwise had.

Edel Doran, First Fortnight Programme Co-ordinator says; “2020 has been a year when we have been told to lock ourselves away from other people; to not see our friends and family and in some cases to isolate.

“There has of course been reason for this but the effect has left us lonely, isolated and vulnerable. This is something many people experience when they have a mental health difficulty they feel they can’t share. They feel powerless.

“When we challenge mental health stigma, we help create a society that is there to help and to listen to mental health discussion. The arts are a powerful tool for this, the nation turned to the arts during this difficult time for a source of entertainment, escapism or enjoyment.

“Whether it was to consume the globally successful Irish show Normal People, dive into a book like Emma Dabiri’s acclaimed Don’t Touch My Hair, listen to a new album from groups like Fontaines D.C., or to actively participate in the arts themselves, the arts demonstrated how important they are for our mental health and well-being.

“We invite you to actively participate in the arts festival this year, join our community and power the change for mental health.”

First Fortnight Festival Programme Co-Ordinator Edel Doran, Movement artist Tobi Omoteso who takes part in the #FFFest21. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.
First Fortnight Festival Programme Co-Ordinator Edel Doran, Movement artist Tobi Omoteso who takes part in the #FFFest21. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

Returning events for the festival include The Therapy Sessions — a popular gathering of poets and musicians; unmissable panel discussions led by RTÉ’s Jim Carroll (Banter) and journalist Nadine O’Regan (The Art of Anxiety); appearances by comedians Eve Darcy, Hannah Mamalis, Allie O’Rourke and conversations with two of Ireland’s most important, influential and compelling authors Emma Dabiri and Caelainn Hogan.

Other highlights include Empowered Voices; Coalesce – A Retrospective featuring the work of 11 internationally renowned artists who have previously collaborated with First Fortnight; and the first event in Northern Ireland when The Therapy Sessions go North to Duncairn, Belfast in association with Duncairn Arts Centre and

There is hope in solidarity and hope comes with every new year. The themes of loneliness, isolation and community are even more relevant now and for the 2021 festival will sit under the banner of Rainbows Over Your Blues. A rainbow encapsulates perfectly the symbolism for First Fortnight Mental Health Art & Culture Festival 2021.

Cork-related events in the festival

Ó Bhéal First Fortnight Edition: On Monday, January 11, (8.30pm-11.30pm), Ó Bhéal’s monthly poetry event will feature guest poets Geraldine O’Kane and Colin Dardis, for the First Fortnight festival.

The event is free and starts with the usual Five Words poetry challenge, followed by guest poets and the later open-mic session.

The event will be hosted on zoom and streamed live via Ó Bhéal’s Facebook page.

O’Kane is a poet, creative writing facilitator and mental health advocate. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies, journals and zines. Dardis is a poet, editor and sound artist.

Therapy Sessions Online: Join acclaimed spoken word poet Stephen James Smith as he MC’s his specially curated 4-corner tour of Ireland (Cork, Galway, Dublin and Belfast), featuring some of Ireland’s most exciting musical and spoken word talent.

A flagship First Fortnight (and regular sell-out) event, Therapy Sessions always deliver a night of energizing, diverse, and powerful performance for the mind and soul.

On January 15, from Cork, join us for what promises to be an electric night. Featuring current All Ireland Poetry Slam Champion Shaunna Lee Lynch, and Stanley Notte’s unique blend of poetry and storytelling.

Musical talent ably provided by singer-songwriter Elaine Malone, multi- instrumentalist and music therapist Siân Brown, topped off with the high-octane punk-poetry of Wasps Vs Humans and Chunky Planet.


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