Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival programme announced

Published: 13 Apr 2021

A woman takes a photo on her phone in the woods
Wellbeing of the Woods

The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) is to return for its 15th year in May, exploring the theme of ‘Normality?’ with a wide-ranging programme of online and outdoor events by people all over Scotland – from Dumfries and Galloway to the Highlands.

What is ‘normality’? A whole year of lockdown has turned the world upside down, forcing us to re-evaluate what we think of as ‘normal’ life and ‘normal’ behaviour. Should things go ‘back to normal’ afterwards? Was the way we lived before ‘normal’ or was it damaging to our mental health? And if life does go ‘back to normal’, who is likely to be excluded from that?

In its 15th year, the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival remains as vital and relevant as ever, with studies worldwide suggesting that Covid-19, and the resultant global lockdown, has led to a crisis in mental health as well as physical health. It is likely that we will be witnessing and processing the mental health impact for to come, due to the sheer number of difficult and stressful situations people have been put through since the beginning of 2020 – the loss of loved ones, prolonged isolation, financial difficulties, or having their whole life plans suddenly disrupted in various other ways.

SMHAF is one of Scotland’s biggest, most diverse festivals. Its unique approach – programmed from the grassroots up by a team of regional co-ordinators all across the country, in combination with a film and performance programme curated by the Mental Health Foundation – ensures it connects with audiences that other arts festivals often struggle to reach.

This year’s online SMHAF programme is once again created by regional co-ordinators across Scotland as well as SMHAF’s central team. Highlights include:

  • My Normality, six new artist commissions responding to the festival theme open to artists from all al disciplines living in Scotland; the commissioned artists will be announced in April.
  • Gathering, a month-long project led by SMHAF associate Emma Jayne Park exploring what it means to gather together. Gathering will form part of the launch for a new ‘Mental Health Creative Network’, supported by the Baring Foundation and designed to bring together people working in the arts and mental health across the UK for mutual learning and support.
  • Online exhibitions by See Me Scotland, Project Ability and more.
  • Home: A Performative Space, a participatory performance led by artists Clare Robertson and Stefanie Blum in which audience members repurpose household objects into an installation into their own home.
  • The Clootie Tree, a short film from the Borders exploring places of special significance where people remember loved ones lost to suicide.
  • ‘Normal?’ conversations, in which we discuss the phenomenon of ‘climate grief’ with theatremaker Katy Dye, visual artist Fadzai Mwakutuya and Billion Minds Institute founder Gary Belkin, as well as exploring whose voices are excluded by ‘normal’ ways of making art, with musician Amble Skuse and theatre-maker Skye Loneragan.
  • SMHAF Writing Competition showcase in association with Bipolar Scotland: one of SMHAF’s most enduring successes, the competition offers first time writers the chance to be published alongside established names.

Things to see from the International Film Competition will be showcased online via INDY On Demand from 3-23 May. Individual titles will be available for one week each on a pay what you can basis and festival passes are available at accessible prices to give audiences access to all the titles. All screenings will include a live discussion with filmmakers and other invited guests.

This year’s programme includes feature films from Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt and Georgia, including one European premiere and three UK premieres. Highlights include:

  • Scottish premieres of Judy Versus Capitalism, Mike Hoolboom’s lyrical documentary about radical feminist Judy Rebick’s experiences as an activist and living with a divided self, and Neighbors, a multi-award-winning documentary that follows a group of people readjusting to normality after decades in a Croatian psychiatric institution.
  • European premiere of Love Bound, a raw and compelling documentary filmed in an otherwise silent therapy room that follows five parents in their struggles to support adult children with severe and enduring mental illness, screening alongside Imogen, debut director Lola Young and Matt Shea’s documentary about a family grieving, celebrating, and reflecting on their daughter’s life.
  • UK premieres of Dead Souls’ Vacation, an absurd, intimate slice of post-Soviet life, chronicling the relationship between a once-popular Georgian musician and his elderly mother, I’ll Be Your Mirror, in which filmmaker Johanna Faust goes on a journey to understand her identity as a mother and artist in the context of a family history of bipolar disorder, and Certified Mail, the debut film by Egyptian director Hisham Saqr about a woman left alone to manage depression and suicidal thoughts while caring for her young baby.

An elderly woman stands on grass smiling at the camera

Short film programmes will explore Grief, Nature, Normality?, and Lived Experience. Highlights include:

  • World premieres of A Glimpse, the debut film by acclaimed playwright and director Zinnie Harris, Korean documentary Like You Know It All, one of two films selected by Ji-Yoon Park, based on audio interviews with an experienced telephone counsellor, Fatboy, a personal account by Scotland-based animator Dan Castro, and Umbilical, the debut short film by Greek filmmaker and theatre actor Elpida Stathatou, an engaging drama about the impact of emotional abuse.

Grief: A Glimpse. Photo of a Woman and two young children in an attic
A Glimpse. Photo Credit: Robert Pereira Hind

The film programme will also include a series of workshops. These will include:

  • A workshop with Zinnie Harris and Elpida Stathtou, chaired by poet, playwright and performer Hannah Lavery, on working across stage and screen. Both filmmakers, best known for their work in theatre, are presenting the world premieres of their debut short films at SMHAF.
  • Participatory documentary game DOCMA, giving people the opportunity to contribute to the creation of short films based on the themes of Nature and Normality?.

Gail Aldam, arts and events manager for the Mental Health Foundation, said: “This is our second online festival, and will be on a bigger and more ambitious scale than our programme in May 2020, as well as building on much of what we have learned during a year of global lockdown. Every year our festival theme is decided through a voting process by our team of regional co-ordinators across Scotland and ‘Normality?’ was a clear favourite this year. The choice was inspired by a wave of media stories during lockdown that constantly referred to people adjusting to ‘the new normal’ or a desire for society to ‘return to normal’. We want to challenge the value judgements often associated with the words ‘normal’ and ‘normality’. What does ‘normality’ mean? And who is excluded from that? We’re really looking forward to finding out how artists and events organisers all across Scotland respond to this theme.”

Still from Normality: Letter to my Mother
Letter To My Mother, Amina Maher


The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival is one of Scotland's most striking and provocative cultural events, encompassing music, film, visual art, performing arts, dance, and literature. The annual Festival takes place in venues across Scotland throughout May (previously October), aiming to support the arts and challenge preconceived ideas about mental health. By engaging artists, connecting with communities and forming collaborations, the Festival celebrates the artistic achievements of people with experience of mental health problems, explores the relationship between creativity and the mind, and promotes positive mental health and wellbeing.

Partners: The Festival is led by the Mental Health Foundation in association with the following national partners: Creative Scotland; See Me, Scotland’s programme to end mental health stigma; Thrive Edinburgh; Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership; NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and The List. The Festival is also supported by hundreds of arts, community and public organisations across Scotland.

The Mental Health Foundation is the UK’s charity for everyone’s mental health. With prevention at the heart of what we do, we aim to find and address the sources of mental health problems so that people and communities can thrive. The Foundation is a UK charity that relies on public donations and grant funding to deliver its work. The Foundation is proud of the vital role it plays in hosting, developing and managing the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.

Media Contact

For further information please contact Claire Fleming at, Andrew Eaton-Lewis at or Peter Jahn at You can also follow the festival at and