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National Gallery audio tour tackles mental health myths

The first mental health-awareness audio tour of the National Gallery launches on World Mental Health Day.

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Credit: The National Gallery, London

Researchers from King’s College London with the McPin Foundation have co-created the audio tour with a group of young people including some affected by mental health issues, alongside members of the Gallery’s Young Producers programme. The Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, have generously funded the tour, which is available free to visitors for 6 months.

The audio tour aims to improve understanding of mental health among visitors to the Gallery, providing an opportunity to see its collection in an alternative way. The tour draws on young people’s experiences of mental health and connects these with the Gallery’s paintings in order to challenge common myths about mental health and immerse visitors in the experiences of the young creators.

Mental health remains misunderstood in UK society, with many people affected by mental health issues left isolated and unsupported. It is wonderful to work with young people on new and creative ways to encourage public conversations about mental health, so that everyone feels more comfortable asking for help and talking about how they feel.– Dr Helen Fisher, project leader from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience
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'A Wheatfield, with Cypresses' by Vincent Van Gogh. This stop on the tour addresses the myth that artists need to have or should draw upon their mental health issues to create great art. Credit: The National Gallery, London

The tour invites the listener to consider their views on mental health and reflect on their own wellbeing as they are guided round the Gallery. Visitors will be able to focus on paintings by Van Gogh, Cima, Crivelli and Joseph Wright of Derby as well as the Gallery’s architecture and figures from its Portico entrance mosaic flooring such as Virginia Woolf and Churchill.

Increasing openness to conversations about mental health in UK society provides an opportunity to break down long-held stigmatising views about people with mental health issues. Each year, the National Gallery opens its doors to over 6 million visitors from all over the world. Open to all, it serves a very wide and diverse public.

This is a wonderful initiative to raise mental health awareness through The National Gallery’s Collection. By offering an audio guide which focuses on people’s responses rather than art historical interpretation, it will provide visitors with a new way of seeing our pictures and challenges some of the myths surrounding mental health.– Anna Murray, the Communities & Access Programmer at The National Gallery

The audio tour is available as a smartphone app, created by Antenna International, so that visitors can simply plug in headphones and be guided to different stops in the Gallery.

The content of the tour was created through workshops with 16–25 year olds, several of whom have lived experience of mental health issues, supported by the McPin Foundation. The views and experiences of these young people were then matched with artworks and spaces in the Gallery by Dr Fisher and members of the Gallery’s Young Producers programme, which aims to build the relevance of the Collection for young audiences.

Find out more on The National Gallery website.

As Campaigns Officer at Arts SU I was excited to be involved with this project as I've seen first-hand how many of the myths discussed in the tour negatively affect people's ability to seek and receive help. The Gallery will be the perfect place for the quiet contemplation and honest reflection of the themes of this tour.– Amber Goneni, from the Gallery's Young Producer programme
We all look at paintings differently and it’s thrilling to offer the public a new viewpoint on art and mental health. As a mental health nurse outside the Gallery, I think it is crucial to provide public space to connect and empathise with the voices of young people experiencing mental health problems.– Aleks Orehova, from the Gallery's Young Producer programme
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'The Vision of the Blessed Gabriele' by Carlo Crivelli. This stop on the tour addresses the myth that having visions and hearing voices are a sign of ‘madness’ and very rare. Credit: The National Gallery, London