My Vision of how Stories of our Well-being can Create Social Change
Soul Relics Museum is a virtual and (hopefully ultimately) physical archive that hosts people’s narratives of memories and stories pertinent to mental health and well-being. Objects are used as the visualisation and memory association tool. That object can be anything of personal significance, or represent institutional barrier to healthcare, etc. They contain the alternative narratives of people’s stories during a time of difficulty/ mental “ill health” and recovery.
Ultimately, Soul Relics is a concept. A new way of storytelling and story-receiving, a new narrative of collective self-exploration and memories. I hope to transcend the injustice many have experienced into empowering everyone to tell and understand others’ stories in a collective manner. I believe, on a human level, this will in turn create meaningful changes in the society.
Let’s start the journey here.
In 2015, world leaders for the first time recognised the importance of mental health by including it in the UN Sustainable Development Agenda. This was a clear recognition of mental health as a central aspect of human well-being on the global stage.
Despite these efforts, “mental health” remains a “wicked” issue. Suicide remains the leading cause of death, and one in four adults experiences at least one “diagnosable” mental health condition in any given year. Approaches to promoting mental well-being are varied and opinions about it are often divisive. Some express rage at being labelled and over-medicalised, others are turned away from clinics for being “not ill enough”. There have been concerns over professionals over-emphasising managing “risks” to the public and the individuals instead of looking at the individuals’ needs. Researchers and practitioners continue to grapple with complex theoretical and practical conceptualisations of the issue from causes to intervention options, from the ever-shifting scope of mental health diagnoses, to completely rejecting the validity of diagnostic categories.
Among the public, there are those who have sought to distance themselves altogether from the language of “mental health” and “mental disorders”. To them, these labels are seen as medicalising legitimate aspects of the human emotional life which can and ought to be understood in a more holistic manner. Some seem to fall through the safety net of social welfare and statutory healthcare systems. Despite increased efforts in engaging “service-users”, some continue to distrust mental health professionals and the healthcare system; for others, societal biases and stigma prevent them from accessing the support they need. This is further compounded by health inequality intersecting with social issues related to race, culture, gender, faith, and income. While some groups are continually over-represented in certain psychiatric diagnoses, others “suffer in silence”. The difficulties in creating an effective mental health support system reflect the varied ways in which people are affected by both our internal experiences and internalised responses to external forces such as recent political changes in the US and the UK. And perhaps, there is a need for a deeper understanding of the intersectionality between personal and collective pain at the grassroots level through allowing individual voices to be heard.
My view is that storytelling is a powerful tool for people to find their own voice and connect with others. As human beings, we make sense of our experiences through forming stories. We communicate messages, beliefs and values through sharing memories and stories. Telling a story empowers the storyteller, and brings a sense of intimacy to the listener. In therapy, storytelling has been shown to help people who have experienced trauma reclaim their sense of identity and form new perspectives especially in conflict settings.
What if there were a museum that displayed the relics of our souls, containing the legacy and testimony of our memories, hope and grief?
My vision is to create a collection of stories, an archive of collective self-exploration and memories. I believe in the power of objects to trigger memories and console people especially when direct story-telling and memory retrieval can be distressing. My vision is for stories to be able to transcend the heated conflict and injustice many have experienced. My vision is of one day having a physical museum containing objects important to people during a time of difficulty.
My project, Soul Relics, is the product of this vision and is a work in progress. Getting the project up and running has been tremendously difficult. When the idea was first pitched to a group of individuals from the business sector, they said to me, “You are very brave to speak up. Mental health is a taboo in this society”, “I will donate to you, but it is just not my thing to relate to these people” “I am sorry; I am not a materialistic person” and “I feel uneasy”. I believe, these comments further strengthened my conviction in the purpose of the project. I have been collecting stories on my website at http://soulrelicsmuseum.me since January. These stories are precious and poignant, relics of times of struggle, hurt and comfort which I believe have the power to enable us to better understand one another and empower us to create meaningful changes in society.
Read more on my webpage. Be part of the change.