A new project has launched in Stoke-on-Trent which aims to raise awareness of mental health problems.
White Monkey is a series of short stories and poems by writer Richard Snell, who has struggled with his mental health since he was a child.
Richard, of Stoke, has teamed up with local arts organisation Centre Space Arts to visually bring his words to life, which he hopes people also struggling with their mental health may be able to relate to.
The Covid-19 lockdown was hard on Richard, like many others, but he realised that a good way to cope with his struggles was to put together a series of short stories and poems in which he can tackle his personal demons and share with others how he came to terms with them.
Originally from London, Richard has been a resident of the city for the past 30 years and worked with Centre Space Arts and it’s director Darren Washington in the past to develop his work.
“I had my first symptom of what I now know to be depression when I was about eight years old,” said Richard.
“White Monkey isn’t the story of how I came to have depression, but more about what I’m going through. There’s still a lot of stigma around mental health problems because people are not educated enough about it.
“Anyone can develop problems at any time for any reason, such as bereavement, and the pandemic has made things a lot worse. There are different levels, but they are all valid.
“I started writing down things that I hadn’t said before, and a script sort of came together.
“I had been working on the project before the pandemic began, but it made things indefinitely worse. Myself and others are desperately waiting for the pandemic to end because it has just made things so much tougher.
“I have been writing for years and I’ve also acted and played music, so it’s a great outlet and very cathartic for me. Darren has helped me with projects before and I’ve known him for a long time.”
Experienced writer Richard said that the hardest part of White Monkey was simply starting.
“The only real challenge with the project was actually starting. Once I started, it all just flowed out,” continued Richard.
“Everything is linked by the same experience but it’s just a series of different responses to depression, which a lot of people can relate to, because the experience is different for everyone.
“Everyone with depression has a different response to it but there also a lot of parallels. I want to be able to get my story out there and I think that it would be very useful academically as a learning resource.”
Richard touches on a variety of experiences throughout his work, including both physical and mental symptoms of depression.
“I haven’t had them for years, but you can get these awful bodily ticks,” explained Richard. “Then there’s other things, you could be all ready to go somewhere, but you just can’t open the front door.
“More commonly is a feeling of loneliness and that nobody cares, which is horrible to have.”
Richard has been working with director Darren, along with Sarah Peart, of Stoke-based Centre Space Arts, to bring White Monkey to life in the form of a series of short films.
“We have worked with Richard before on projects and we’ve helped with the visual elements of bringing his work to life,” explained Darren.
“The White Monkey poems are all separate but they link together and I know that writing these stories have really helped him.
“The collection is a great learning tool and covers all different aspects of mental health problems, not just the downsides, but the reality of it too, and how many people are still able to function whilst dealing with problems.
“We have set up a fundraiser because it’s going to be quite a big project and we want to be able to support artists and be able to pay them for their work because that is really important to us.”
You can support the White Monkey fundraiser here.