Debs Carter, 36, Southampton, UK describes herself a lover of people and her favourite thing to do is sit down with a cappuccino with her husband or friends and discuss the world, life and everything in between. Debs is also expecting her first child with her husband Phil and is a charity freelancer and the founder of The Touch Network.
Debs states she is not an artist but is very creative and uses her creativity to think up new projects and strategies for charities as well as her own creative writing, where she is a true storyteller with a focus for real life.
We invited Debs to our last event for this campaign “mental illness, health and recovery” so that she could engage with people at the event and get them to possibly sign up for sharing their stories via the Touch Network. It was a successful day for Debs as she acquired many sign ups and a few from the ASLI team itself.
So we decide to interview Debs and find out more about her and this important project:
What is the Touch Network?
Touch Network is all about touching and inspiring women through real life stories. The network currently focuses on writing short stories, presented in a beautiful way, about women’s experiences and journeys through life, emphasising the uniqueness and inspiring elements behind each story. We currently send the stories out by post so that women get a monthly treat of a hard copy of an inspiring and touching story.
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
I have founded Touch because I believe that story sharing about real life is really important. It not only helps the person sharing their story to be real and honest about life and for them to feel accepted, it also enables those listening to have a deeper connection and understand more about that person and others who may experience similar issues – maybe even about themselves. I personally have valued people in my journey sharing their personal experience of the ups and downs of life and often it has helped me to have hope.
What is your process when creating?
It took me quite a few months to formulate the idea for Touch, but I got there in the end, and I think the time it took was very much part of the process. I knew I wanted to help women share real life stories but I just didn’t know how to do it. I was also quite scared of starting something new. I eventually figured out the best way to encourage people to get involved in something, especially when they are being invited to make themselves a little vulnerable, was to be an example and begin with sharing my own personal story of real life.
Who inspires you in general?
The people who inspire me the most are people who seem to be at peace and carry themselves with grace and acceptance of both themselves and others. Also, those people who have the ability, confidence and self esteem to make wonderful things happen that bring about change for others.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
I try to get involved in things that make life just that little bit easier for people. Life is generally pretty messy for most of us, there are highs and lows in it, and we all have great bits and not so great bits about ourselves, I believe the more we accept this of ourselves and of others, the more grace and compassion we can have and the easier life is for us all. Sharing real life stories, being inspired by them and accepting the storyteller for who they are is all part of this.
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
I guess for me, thinking in a way that is creative leads to innovation and doing things differently. By accessing the creative part of our minds and expressing ourselves in a creative way, we enable new opportunities and ways of doing things to develop, which in turn helps to change the world we live in, in turn enabling better lives.
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in anyway and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
I think I have learnt that creativity is a natural part of me, I have occasionally tried to be ‘traditional’ in my approach to life, but actually it is not a good fit for me! I think the more I have accepted my creativity and different ways of doing things, the more I have accepted and believed in who I am. I think that Touch is creative in that it is a different way of doing things, and it goes against, in particular, British culture of having a ‘stiff upper lip’ and giving the impression “hay life is always good” even when maybe it is a bit of a struggle. I believe that Touch may help people to ‘say it as it is’, be accepted and move on! This would be a big change in the world!
What are your present and future goals for your art?
The goals for my project includes putting out more inspiring real life stories to women who want to receive them. Increasing the membership of the Touch Network, running some story sharing events, and establishing the project as a bona fide social enterprise that creates change in this world.
The following question are about mental health:
Can you tell us about your own experiences with mental illness?
I have had a number of struggles with mental illness, including severe depression, self harm and suicide attempts. Amazingly I am quite a way through this journey now, with the help and support of medical professionals, family and friends. I have been privileged to live in a therapeutic community for two years, which helped me to understand that others experience similar things, before this, I thought I was the only one!
How does your artistic /creative expression help you with your mental health?
I wouldn’t say Touch particularly helps me with my current mental health, as I am generally fit and well now, but it does help me to remember how far I’ve come and that I’m not alone in my journey and that there are often similarities between real life stories that are about very different things, for example friendship, self esteem and confidence are often themes within the unique stories that are told.
Have you ever experienced being stigmatised or marginalised due to your mental health or have you seen this happen to someone else?
I can’t say I’ve had a bad experience in terms of my mental health, but I know that for many reasons, mental illness is something that people struggle to understand and accept.
Have you ever received treatment for mental health and if so, what was it, did it help and was it private or state funded?
Treatment for my mental health has always been state funded and I feel privileged that my support and treatment has generally been very good. I have stayed many times in mental health hospitals, lived in a therapeutic community and had a great deal of psychotherapy.
Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?
Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t! I think the biggest problem is that people lack understanding of what mental illness is and are often frightened, don’t know what to say or how to express their thoughts about it, leading to judgement and discrimination because of this lack of understanding.
How do you feel your Government in your country helps people with mental illness and could they do more?
I can’t really answer this, from my own experience I have had very good treatment and the NHS has invested in helping me to put my life back together. I am very grateful for this. I know others haven’t been as fortunate so wouldn’t like to reflect more broadly.
Have you ever had any creative therapies as part of your treatment, did it help?
I have benefited from art therapy at times of acute illness and it has helped me to express what has been going on in my head when I didn’t have the words.
What made you want to get involved with ASLI’s MENTAL ILLNESS, HEALTH AND RECOVERY CAMPAIGN?
It’s so important, and I’m keen to work together with ASLI in terms of promoting good mental health through the Touch Network.
Do you believe in more rights for mentally ill people in the workplace and for equal opportunities?
Yes, I think that adaptations should be on offer so that everyone has equal opportunity in the workplace. I strongly believe in equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of the issue that they may battle with.
We at ASLI want to de-stigmatize diagnosis labels within mental illness so that people treat others and their own mental health label as that of a diabetic or any other chronic “physical” illness, as we know the brain is physical and this would further improve stigma and marginalising mental illness. How do you feel about diagnosis labels?
I’m not sure, sometimes I think that diagnosis is helpful, sometimes it isn’t. For me personally it hasn’t led to more or better treatment, as far as I am aware, but I understand diagnosis have for others.
Everyone within ASLI is affected in some way by mental illness, with our MD having several chronic mental illnesses and other members either caring for or dealing with mental health issues. Would this make you think twice about working with ASLI? And does this make ASLI “less professional” in your opinion and if so why?
Nope! Doesn’t make me think twice at all, and doesn’t make me think you are less or more professional!
Are there any artists/creatives/performers which you admire, who suffer from mental illness that you feel use their work to discuss or highlight mental health?
I think Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry are pretty cool!
We love Debs Carter and her project and we hope to be working further with her at ASLI as we feel her expertise and talent is very valuable for both our overall missions.