Ten Years of Making Waves – The Story of Mind Waves

Hi everyone! Tuesday the 21st of September marked the 10 year anniversary of the founding of Mind Waves. Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing some stories of how Mind Waves has impacted people’s lives and reflecting on the ever-changing relationship of technology and mental health. To start us off, we have a post from our wonderful founder, Trevor Lakey. He reflects on the beginning of Mind Waves, the initial goals and plans for the charity and shares some highlights from the past ten years. His words are below.

With high hopes, at least half a plan and no shortage of quizzically raised eyebrows, Mind Waves launched itself upon an unsuspecting world on 21st September 2011. The launch was arranged at the Mitchell Theatre as part of Glasgow’s Social Media Week, also featuring a range of community media initiatives from around the UK. But what was this mysterious Mind Waves and what were we looking to achieve?

In a nutshell, it was a no-so-controlled experiment, gleefully colliding together two different worlds, with hopes of making something new. One world was of communities seeking to get ever more active in progressing and challenging a whole range of mental health issues in an often hostile and misunderstanding wider society. The other was the rapidly advancing set of technologies called social media – that offered potential to transform much of how communication happened across the planet.

As the Public Mental Health lead for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde I had been part of a wide team of colleagues and collaborators (from public, voluntary and community sectors) who had already been involved in a range of community mental health initiatives – such as our Glasgow Anti-Stigma Partnership, the launch in 2007 of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, suicide prevention programmes, schools-based mental health education work and so forth. Finding effective,
sustainable and ethical ways of empowering people to take more control of the mental health agenda was a golden thread running through all this work.

Alongside this development work, I was developing a parallel interest. From September 2009 I had dived into the world of social media – an attempt to learn more about its potential to open-up new opportunities for learning and sharing ideas. To say I was excited at what I found would be an understatement… I was like a kid in a sweetie shop. I was soon finding ideas, people and programmes that were well beyond my public health world. Ideas like ‘human-centred service design’, ‘jugaad’ (the Indian concept of ‘frugal innovation’ – solving problems with what you have around you), open-mapping (like MapKibera in Kenya, opening up communication in one of the world’s largest slums or crowdfunding, such as urban development platform ‘IOBY

But what struck me more than anything was the degree to which I was hearing voices and stories that had barely impinged on me until that point – particularly initiatives from lower income countries and from minority groups, whose challenges we were only used to seeing on our TV screens when they hit crisis levels. Instead, I was seeing a wide range of marginalised groups starting to experiment with social media and allied technologies, seeking a more direct voice and applying local solutions.

One of the first projects I came across was the Trevor Project (no relation!) that was established to provide life-saving support in the field of suicide prevention to LGBTQ young people. (And they are still going strong, just presenting an award to rapper Lil Nas X as suicide prevention advocate of the year .) From Namibia I found HIV awareness programmes using performing arts to get a message across. From Rio de Janeiro I came across Catalytic Communities using social media to give favela residents a voice in their long struggle for better rights and living conditions. I found a range of projects championing the rights of Dalits and their struggles against the caste system and from the USA another project that is still underway – Invisible People – putting faces, names and voices to the stories of homelessness, rather than only dealing in statistics and prejudices

So, Mind Waves was born with the idea of exploring how we might utilise the tools of social media, blogging and allied technologies to help provide a platform for many more voices to be heard on mental health and mental illness. The concept was to try to create positive news and shared lived experience. This was by means of providing mutual support, skills, confidence and helping to grow an audience. Thus, we launched a bidding process to find a partner who could create such a learning environment – drawing on a mere six months of initial NHS funding from some other budget’s underspend.

Emerging as the successful bidder was the fantastic Outside the Box organisation, who were more than prepared to grapple with and bring this novel idea into reality. Within weeks we were starting to recruit our first “Community Correspondents”, create a safe and comradely space to explore and start working on stories, begin the setting up of a blog-site (“Mind Waves News”) and getting the word out there about the mixture of grassroots reporting, opinion pieces and so forth that were to
be our outputs.

After a couple of years, the Media Trust lent a hand to help create a more professional web platform. Later, Third Sector Lab took up the mantle of commissioned support partner and, like Outside the Box, have gone above and beyond reasonable expectations to maintain and further develop the idea – drawing on whatever resource we could find along the way. A later phase also saw an active role for the Health Alliance in developing the project, and partners like Glasgow Association for Mental Health have been active supporters throughout.

I don’t intend here to try and catalogue all that came next – if you are new to Mind Waves have a browse through the site to get a flavour of all that has been created. And why not contribute yourself as well? But I do want to feature on episode from the early history of the project. With less than a year on the clock, one of the Community Correspondents spotted the Technology for Good Awards and a collective decision was made to make a submission. To say we were delighted to be
shortlisted as finalists and invited to attend the 2012 awards event in London would be an understatement-and-a-half! You can still find some of our blog-posts about the event on the site here and here

And ten years later Mind Waves is still here, now as an independent charity – never having the luxury of loads of cash to wallow in but maintaining an open door of supporting folk keen to extend their skills and confidence throughout all this time. Tea and cake have always been central to this endeavour. Many hundreds of stories and creative items later, I would say there is an impressive body of work on display, that has brought pleasure, comfort and insights to many over the years.
Not just news or stories, but poetry, photography, podcasts and animations – an ever-expanding range of material on a wide range of themes (everything from the power of nature, issues around stigma and employment, friendship, creativity and the Jekyll and Hyde that is the influence of technology in our lives).

If I have one feeling above all else about the last decade of Mind Waves, it is pride – in the many dozens of folk who have been prepared to push themselves to create heart-felt communications on themes of wellbeing, mental health and mental illness. And pride in the tireless work from Outside the Box and Third Sector Lab who have given so much to make this idea a reality and to the thousands of people who have interacted with Mind Waves’ outputs over the years in so many ways.

You don’t have to look too hard to see the dark side of technology and social media in the twenty-first century. Trolls, bullies, naysayers seem to pop up with alarming regularity – just look at the number of commentators happy to lambast young athletes in recent months for daring to be open about the mental challenges they face in their lives. But we have a choice – either to give into these negative forces or to try to enable an alternative perspective, that challenges stigma and
stereotypes, and provides hope for a more inclusive and understanding society.

So, a heartfelt thanks from me for all who have been prepared to give of themselves in exploring what positive media for mental wellbeing might be, and to all who have worked to turn this idea into reality. And here’s to the next ten years!

Dr Trevor Lakey, Health Improvement and Inequalities Manager – Mental Health, Alcohol and Drugs, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Mind Waves founder.

If you found these words as inspiring and interesting as I did, and you have your own Mind Waves memories or reflections to share, send an email to maddy@mindwavesnews.com, fire us a DM on Instagram at mindwaves_scot or message us on Twitter @MindWaves1



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