Posts Tagged ‘CoolTan Arts’

CoolTan Arts, an arts in mental health

September 27, 2013

There are growing fears that government cuts and changes to the welfare system are having a devastating impact on the lives of people with mental health distress.

In July 2013, the annual report by the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness recorded an increase in the suicides of mental health patients from 2010-2011. There were 1,333 suicides in England in 2011, compared to 1,175 in 2010. The researchers said the “Image” facing many people was likely to lie behind the rise.

CoolTan Arts, an arts in mental health charity based in the London Borough of Southwark, has reported that three of its participants have committed suicide in the last eight months. Two other have allegedly died of self-neglect in the same period.

“This figure is shocking and unprecedented,” said the charity’s founder and CEO Michelle Baharier. “Prior to this, only three of our users had committed suicide in 23 years.” CoolTan Arts is run by and for people with mental health distress and was set up by Michelle to inspire and facilitate wellbeing and recovery for a diverse range of people experiencing mental distress.

The objective is to empower individuals to aspire to, and achieve their full potential and be accepted by part of the wider community. All of the work supports people in need of mental health and social care support, whether or not they are eligible for Council or NHS services.

CoolTan cannot name the participants who committed suicide, but is able to talk about the problems they faced. Person A was refused a social care personal budget for social care after being deemed to be ‘too well’. They were discharged and CoolTan supported them as far as it could. Person B was affected by benefit cuts and the fear of having no money, while Person C  was deemed too ‘unwell’ to apply for a social care personal budget.

The charity is angry that government cuts to the welfare system means vulnerable people with mental health distress are beginning to lose crucial funding and believes the current reassessment of benefits is only increasing the huge pressure on those already suffering from high levels of stress. As a result, participants are becoming unwell and anxious because of possible changes to benefits, including Incapacity Benefit, which is being replaced with Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or JSA,  ‘Bedroom Tax’ and the DWP’s Work Capability Assessments, and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) being abolished to be replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

“We are hugely worried that the benefits system is heading in a direction which will put people with mental health problems under even more pressure and scrutiny, at a time when they are already being hit in other areas, such as cuts to services,” said Michelle. “We’re seeing parents unable to feed their families, a growing sense of unworthiness, leading to deep depression.”

Research for the mental health charity Mind backs this up. A 2011 study found that three-quarters of people it surveyed said the prospect of a work capability assessment had made their mental health worse and 51% said it had left them with suicidal thoughts. The survey, which polled more than 300 people claiming Incapacity Benefit, found that 95% thought they would not be believed at their assessment.

East Walworth, the area that CoolTan operates in, is particularly affected by mental ill health. Walworth is ranked the most deprived ward in Southwark and has the highest recorded incidences of mental illness in Western Europe.


In spite of this, people in Southwark are currently experiencing reduced access to mental health support and services because of big cuts in public spending implemented by the government. Local services have merged or changed into ‘floating support-type’ models rather than buildings based where people meet regularly. For example, Castle Resource Centre (Together UK) is now a floating support-type service and the Lorrimore Centre is now sharing time and space with the Maroons BME Centre.


Since spring 2013, when the Cambridge House Advocacy service stopped, there has been no generic mental health advocacy service in the borough, apart from narrow specialist services. This has resulted in growing concerns about an increase in the number of mental health users who have taken their own lives, or died as a result of self-neglect, in the past year. The situation has been exacerbated by long waiting lists at Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) Southwark. In 2012 there were around 800 people in Southwark on a Community Care Plan, now the figure is reduced to around 1,200 people.


“We hear stories of people living on a food budget of £5 a week, bringing a slow decline in physical and mental health,” said Michelle. “Another of our participants is living on £71 a week and paying £28 of this in service charges. Older people, who aren’t getting support are neglecting themselves. One man who was helping raise sponsorship caught pneumonia and died.”

To make matters worse, big cuts in public spending mean that vital mental health services are closing down or under threat. Many service users benefit from advice and workshops offered free by charities, such as CoolTan Arts, and if these organisations can no longer afford to provide the services, there are concerns that other people will no longer have access to similar support in future.

“The support networks including through the NHS’ Community Care Plan (CCP), of which we were a provider as trained specialists, and the Citizens Advice Bureau no longer offer the same level of support,” said Michelle. “When one of our participants, who has schizophrenia, found out about the Bedroom Tax, it had a huge impact and sent him into uncontrollable episodes.”

Participants at CoolTan are also waiting for long periods to be assessed as suitable to receive Personal Budgets. Only 12 participants out of the 46 who applied for a Personal Budget have been granted one. Some of the successful ones have been waiting since April 2011 and will probably not receive back payments.


In the last financial year, only 15 CoolTan participants with mental health needs were awarded personal budgets, the majority of people, even those still with a Care Coordinator, are assessed as not being eligible for social care funding.

Because of all these changes CoolTan Arts is seeing a large increase in the number of people wanting support, up by 130% in the past two years.


People with mental distress are also experiencing increased stigma and stress as a result of politicians and sections of the media describing benefit claimants as ‘scroungers’ and ‘skivers’. “Attacking the most vulnerable who do not have a voice is a policy of bullies,” said Michelle. “It promotes a society that prioritises the rich and what they term as ‘normal’. These labels are damaging and may have contributed to a recent increase in violence against disabled people.”


Government cuts means that CoolTan now finds itself with less resources to help people when they need it most. “I believe we should be celebrating difference and diversity and the accompanying talents,” said Michelle. “It is a difficult time for all, so we need to find a way of inspiring and sharing hope. That is why we are organising our Stayin’ Alive Sponsored Walk on October 12, which is World Mental Health Day. This is a fun, interactive event that explores the idea of hope. We will be enjoying talks, performances and discussions, as well as sharing what inspires us and makes life worth living.”

CoolTan has also launched a web page where their participants can share their hope stories at





Background information for editors:


The Office for National Statistics’ latest report, ‘Suicides in the United Kingdom, 2011’, shows that 6,045 people aged 15 and took their own life in 2011. That is an increase of 437 compared with 2010.

In August 2012, a paper published by the British Medical Journal linked the general rise in suicide to the economic recession. More than 1,000 people may have ended their lives because of the crisis.

The WHO Mental health classifies suicide as the biggest killer amongst 45-55 year olds, above heart disease, and says people with serious mental health distress have a higher risk of dying by suicide than the general population.