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Interview with Tony Gillam - Author of Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice

Blog post written by Robyn Dowlen (Blog Editor)

In a new feature for the blog we are conducting interviews with authors who have published in the field of arts, health and wellbeing. I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Tony Gillam about his book Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice.


Tony Gillam is a Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, and a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).

Q. How did you first become interested in the area of creativity, wellbeing and mental health practice?

Tony: You might say I've been interested in creativity my whole life. I've always loved literature and music and have always recognised that the creative arts were important to me - as they are to many people - as a way of maintaining and enhancing my own wellbeing, whether through what might be called a more 'passive' involvement (reading a novel, listening to a song,) or more actively (by composing or performing some music or doing some creative writing.) When I began research for my Masters degree, I became interested in the fashionable use of the term 'wellbeing' and began to link this both to creativity and to mental health nursing.

Q. What inspired you to write Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice?

Tony: I worked as a mental health nurse for thirty years. At the start of my career, I saw mental health nursing as a very creative job. There were plenty of opportunities to be creative in how you engaged service users and carers in therapeutic relationships. In fact, I would say the job required a high level of creativity. But, over time, with the rise of managerialism, bureaucracy, increasing risk-aversion and a more business-like approach to healthcare, I saw mental health practice change and become more mechanical, joyless and uninspiring. I felt that a well-researched, well-argued book, grounded in the 'real world' of clinical practice, might help mental health practitioners (and their managers and leaders) understand the importance of creativity for the wellbeing of both staff and service users. I hoped this book might help reinvigorate mental health care and perhaps give permission to nurses and other health and social care staff to reclaim creativity in their work and help promote a more creative work culture.

Q. How do you see your book fitting in with wider developments to arts and health research, policy and practice?

Tony: My impression is that arts and health research, policy and practice go through cycles. Looking back over my career in mental health it seems as if, every few years, people 'remember' that creative arts are beneficial to health and, at the same time, recognise that healthcare may have become overly scientific or reductionist and somewhat dehumanised. So then, reports are written recommending that more efforts are made to encourage community participation in arts activities alongside recommendations that healthcare professionals should be educated in the arts and humanities as well as in the sciences. I think my book is another timely reminder of these messages. My book takes a slightly broader view in that it doesn't just discuss arts and health, but creativity and health (as well as wellbeing). While creativity can include the creative arts, it is of course a much wider concept and my book discusses both how mental health practice connects with the arts, but also how mental health care can be viewed as a creative activity in its own right. Sometimes, this can mean, for example, a nurse running music groups (as I do), but sometimes it can also mean using improvisation in the way we respond to a service user's remark in a therapy session that has nothing to do with arts activities.

Q. What would you say are the three top take-away messages you'd like people to get from reading your book?

Tony: Well, I could just pinch something from the 'blurb' here! One thing it says on the back cover is that "a high level of wellbeing is essential to mental health and to contemporary mental health care - and creativity is at the heart of this." Another 'takeaway message' would be that "a greater awareness of everyday creativity, the arts and creative approaches to mental health practice and leadership can help us reinvent and reinvigorate mental health care." And thirdly, "creativity and wellbeing are fundamental to reducing occupational stress and promoting professional satisfaction," so we can't afford to ignore these aspects because a less stressed healthcare workforce provides better care, with better outcomes for service users and carers.

Q. What are the next stages for you? What other projects are you working on?

Tony: I've recently written a magazine article exploring some of the book's themes for a non-academic audience, and I was also invited to Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge to talk to students and staff there. I continue to write about creativity, wellbeing and mental health on my blog ... but, I do worry that I've already spent too much time researching and writing about creativity when I should be doing creative things! Musically, I'm continuing to write, record and perform music. I perform solo as a singer-songwriter and I'm also one half of an indie-folk duo called Fracture Zone.

I facilitate a regular 'Music for Wellbeing' group at a drop-in for service users at Dudley MIND. I've just composed and recorded the 'theme music' for a new mental health podcast which the Mental Health Nurses' Association is producing. On the writing side of things, alongside some freelance writing and reviewing, I continue to write short stories occasionally and, now that the academic book is published, I'm trying to get back into writing a novel that I started a few years ago.

Thank you Tony for taking the time to be interviewed for the blog. Be sure to follow Tony's blog and listen to his indie-folk music duo Fracture Zone. You can buy Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice here.

Watch this space over the coming months for more interviews with authors in the field. Have you got a suggestion for an author you would like to be interviewed? If so, please get in touch!

Robyn (Blog Editor)

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