A LOCAL charity has helped one of its members gain the confidence to put on an exhibition of her life.

With encouragement from the charity, Gemma Taylor committed herself to sharing her life experience and to help raise awareness about mental health issues.

"When I first mentioned it to Barry," said Gemma, "we laughed about it. It was a huge task to take on but I have learned so much.”

Initially Gemma called her project Fifty Shades of Crap, but as the work developed she realised that the journey she has been on her whole life, and which is the subject of this exhibition, is something to be dignified with a title that truly represents what it is: Fifty Shades Of Insight.

Gemma explained: “I have a diagnosis of schizophrenia – which I personally don’t think helps anyone understand what my life is like.

“The medical model insists that schizophrenia is a chemical imbalance in the brain that can only be treated with drugs.

“I agree that drugs have their place but I know that my mental health issues are the result of trauma and I have developed ways to manage my health. My art is most definitely one of them.”

Gemma’s life hasn’t been easy. She describes her mental state as 'up and down'.

“My diagnosis doesn’t define me,” she says. “Because of trauma in childhood, my life can be very challenging but it's so much better for myself and people who are like me when other people understand.”

With the Welsh Government stating that one in four adults will experience mental health problems at some point during their lifetime, it is important that an arts-based approach to supporting wellbeing is recognised.

Gemma speaks of the VC Gallery as being "a rock" that gave her the initial spur to start her Fifty Shades project; though it was never an easy process, she says that actually starting it just as the first lockdown happened helped focus her mind.

Barry was in full support of what Gemma was doing, saying: “That the Government recognises the value of arts and culture in alleviating symptoms and supporting people to stay connected, relax, express who they are, and improve confidence and self-esteem is so important but it is with thanks to the Baring Foundation who have funded part of our work to bring the arts to our community.

“The impact of poor mental health cannot be ignored as it affects people of all ages. It affects our communities and our economy. It also impacts on life expectancy with research finding that people with severe or lasting mental illness died on average 10 years earlier than the general population.

“Poor mental health problems can be inherited through family generations, through poverty, loss, trauma and abuse, meaning people miss out on gaining qualifications, getting work, and an income and a good place to live.”