Meet Iain – Art for Wellbeing teacher

Having hit rock bottom more times than he cares to remember, there have been instances when Iain just didn’t want to carry on.

Although he still struggles daily with his self-esteem and confidence, Iain now runs Teamwork’s weekly Art for Wellbeing sessions, where he is able to help others with mental health issues by developing new skills through painting, drawing, mosaic and other art forms.

“I can relate to people who are anxious or in a bad place because I have had to overcome my own personal issues,” explains Iain, who says the emotional abuse he went through as a child meant he grew up with anxiety and depression, without really knowing it.

“I’ve have some severe episodes over the years, especially in my 20s and 30s when I became a single parent with a young family. I guess I just got used to struggling on my own because that was what I had always done. That and the fear of my children being taken away from me if anyone found out about my mental ill health left me afraid to speak up.”

When Iain finally plucked up the courage to go to the doctors, he was prescribed medication, but he says the potential side effects were too scary for him to risk.

“The medication could cause suicidal thoughts, but I was already at a point where things couldn’t get any worse. I undertook six weeks of counselling instead but it wasn’t long enough, so I just carried on trying to deal with my issues alone.”

It was at that point Iain revived his love of art and ‘fell into teaching’.

“As a child I would copy images from books and magazines until I was good enough to draw from memory. It was extremely powerful and therapeutic, so I went back to college and retook my Art A Level as an adult. At the time my son had been showing behavioral problems at primary school too, but I wasn’t happy with how his issues were being dealt with. When I went to complain, the school ended up giving me a job as a learning behavior support worker, and art was one of the subjects I ended up doing with the children.”

Iain went on to teach art at another school before having another devastating breakdown.

“I lost both my jobs and hit a real low point. I suddenly realised that I had no support network myself – I didn’t trust my doctors, I had no friends and I kept my feelings to myself. It was a horrible place to be.”

Iain received community support from Mind following an assessment, and began participating in their various art classes. After three years he went back to a teaching role – this time as a volunteer running Mind’s mosaic sessions. He has since worked at St Mary’s Hospital, Age Concern and local youth club.

I then started attending Teamwork Trust’s peer support group – a session I still try to go to occasionally today – and I found out they were also looking for an art teacher to run small wellbeing sessions. It was a scary prospect, but I knew deep down that I could bring some real value.

Iain says he uses his lived experience in his teaching, whether that is to plan sessions or how he adapts during his classes.

“It has been and still is a very slow process for me to overcome my own issues, but art definitely helps me deal with my feelings, and learning about new art forms so that I can teach others is very rewarding. I am in a place I have never been before. This feeling of happiness doesn’t come naturally, it almost feels underserved, but I am realising that I have a lot to offer, and a special understanding of how people are feeling because of what I have gone through. Seeing people feel better because of how I teach does as much good for me as it does for them.”

Find out more about Wellbeing at Teamwork HERE