Challenging mental health stigma through art

An art exhibition in Eastbourne, which explores a local man’s journey through psychosis, is hoping to raise awareness of mental illness and raise vital funds for a mental health charity. 

The exhibition, called ‘To weather the storm’, is the work of Steve Dennis from Bexhill on Sea, who was diagnosed in 2017 and has used art to explore his illness and recovery.  

It will run at the Towner Art Gallery, College Road, Eastbourne on Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 October from 5pm-9pm each day. Entry is free but donations are greatly received and will go to Heads On, the charity of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which provides local mental health services. 

On display will be more than 30 original paintings alongside two large sculptures. 

Explains Steve: “Art has played a huge part in my recovery. It helps me to express to myself what happened to me, as well as to the people around me. I’m quite active on social media and I started sharing images of my work online, and the more I shared the more I realised that my story wasn’t unique and that many people were able to relate to my art. 

“With encouragement from my wife, and my counsellor, Ian, I decided to share my work on a larger scale and that’s when the idea for the exhibition was born. It’s taken 14 months to pull everything together but I hope that people will find it honest and inspiring. I want them to go away talking about mental health and the fact that recovery is always possible.”

Steve admits that his illness took him by surprise. “I was aware that things weren’t quite right,’ he explains. “I remember having extreme anxiety like I’d never experienced before. I was paranoid, had no confidence in myself or my work, and I couldn’t sleep. I was completely stuck. My family became very concerned about my behaviour and eventually they took me to A&E as I was clearly very ill.

“I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and spent three weeks in hospital in Eastbourne. I was fortunate to get the treatment I needed and to have huge support from friends and family, but there are many people who are not fortunate enough to have that level of support and can find themselves quite isolated. My message to them is that you are not alone. Throughout my illness I felt deep shame and a paralysing inability to communicate my thoughts. The more we all share our experiences, the less people will feel they have to suffer in silence. 

“My journey has taught me there are no simple answers; anxiety and depression eat from the inside out but I want to show that it can be challenged and channelled into a movement forwards which can be unstoppable.”

Sarah Walker, Community Fundraiser for Heads On, said: “We really appreciate Steve choosing to support Heads On through his exhibition. This is a fantastic way to get people talking about mental health issues and goes a long way to challenging the stigma that still surrounds it.” 

You can find out more about Steve and his work at www.skullsandorchids.com, or search for skullsandorchids1 on Instagram.