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Grafters Space: Interview with Jack Collins

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, we are asking creatives and residents in Armley and the wider West Leeds area to share their experiences and journeys with mental health difficulties.

Jack Collins is a poet, spoken word artists, writer, educator and host of ‘Spoken Word + Other Stuff’ at Hyde Park Book Club as part of this years Leeds Lit Fest. They are a Poet-in-Residence at Seven Arts, and have agreed to answer some questions and share some of their work.

Have you ever experienced isolation, or felt alone in your mental health journey, and how did this affect you?

I had to think about this question for a very long time and in the end I must answer yes. I must say that I am fortunate enough to have avoided loneliness (for the most part) but there are times, even when we are surrounded by our loved ones or with family at the end of the phone when we take the things life throws at us and put them squarely on own shoulders. There are reasons people can’t know what we are going through. There are things happening that we believe will alter our image in other’s eyes and we want, even at the expense of our own mental health to conserve this image. In the last decade of my life I have subjected myself and have been subjected to (not least in this pandemic) constant change, constant challenge and much disappointment and hurt.

That is not to say that the highs haven’t been wonderfully high but the lows too make their mark. I think isolation of this kind, the kind in which we hide our stress and upset for the benefit of others, has affected my willingness to keep in contact with my friends and family who are further afield. It means that when someone asks you if you’re okay when you haven’t had a chat in 6 months, even as you find yourself entrenched in a desperate situation, you are inclined to say, ‘yeah, fine’ ‘Not too bad.’ We put up walls to protect ourselves from the judgement of others. I am guilty of this glossing over and am still working to find ways of jolting myself into painful honesty which can garner the empathy and support we as individuals all need to survive.

What support do you rely on the most in your mental health journey?

My fiancée Madeleine is the person who over the last 6 years has bolstered my mental health and I hers. This support is very important to me and without her guidance I feel like there are times in my recent past when I would have felt lost. Her mental health journey differs greatly from mine however as she has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety within the last year. We share advice, strategies for success and an understanding that each day is fresh and with it’s own reliefs and trials. I am also lucky to have a strong family structure behind me to whom my welfare is of paramount importance. I realise the value of these two supports and know that many suffer without them, so for this I am eternally grateful.

Why do you think it is important to talk about our mental health?

I think the discussion of mental health in public discourse is important because the more we discuss it the more commonplace it becomes. We can throw off the idea that if you aren’t feeling good you are weak or if you have emotions outside of the norm you are somehow wrong. Some of the strongest people I know of have been in the most dire states of mental health. As I mentioned earlier I myself find it hard to talk about on a personal level. I disclose things to those near to me and write my pain in to poetry but speaking wider is difficult because in some circumstances it still feels somewhat taboo. The more we create this understanding that what we feel is shared the smaller the gap between us will get.

The artistic medium in which I work luckily exists largely outside of the constraints of commercial interest or ideas about what ‘should’ be discussed. Poetry is seeing a fantastic wave of openness and honesty on the subject of how we are feeling and how our mental health is affected by current and personal events. The events I host around Leeds are often filled with raw revelations and hard admittances that seek to embolden and release our listenership from the worry that its only them who have had bad experiences. That those bad experiences have an effect that often isn’t our fault. By writing it down and saying (whispering, shouting) these things to an audience we exorcise the power that the feeling or event has over us and we can begin again having told the truth.

What barriers prevent us from talking about our mental health?

Other than what I have talked about, I think the stigma that surrounds mental health discussion and the shameful way in which the British Government underfunds therapeutic and medicinal supports and under-publicises the mental health crisis we are currently experiencing.

How does mental health affect us as a community and is there anything that we can do to help those with difficulties feel included?

These are awful times and there are many methods for self-care which I believe have been adequately covered and as I am no expert I do not profess to know enough to advise. What I will say is that if people are looking for any access to free art and poetry which may inspire them (or help them to get started) I know of a few rolling events that are ongoing online during the pandemic. These resilient and marvellous people are hosting and performing at events for listeners and speakers who can hear some high quality rhyme or share their own. Poetry is for everyone and this crisis is proving that.

If you have any advice for anyone currently in crisis, what would it be?

Again as I am no expert or doctor I would advise using all available avenues to get professional advice. I have done research and found some available mental health resources.

There is a new helpline here-

Mental Health Helpline for Leeds on 0800 183 0558

Also these may be useful-

MindWell – the mental health website for people in Leeds. The site includes a coronavirus mental health information hub which brings together information about mental health and Covid-19 for people in Leeds.

Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service – anyone aged over 17 and registered with a Leeds GP can use online therapy courses and self-management tools which are available at any time day and night to help with a wide range of issues including stress and anxiety, mindfulness, depression and bereavement. Help is available immediately at

Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s (LYPFT) Crisis Resolution Intensive Support Service (CRISS) team provides assessment and intensive support to adults 16-65 years who are experiencing a mental health crisis. It’s open 24/7, every day. If someone needs help urgently they should call 0300 300 1485.

Children and young people can visit the MindMate website for information and support about their emotional health and wellbeing.

Anyone whose life is in immediate danger should call 999.

We’d like to thank Jack for taking part and being the first creative to appear on Grafters Space. You can find more of their work on their SoundCloud account, or follow them on Facebook or Instagram. You can find their poems “Glottal Stop” and “Strict Routine” on our Instagram page, or keep reading…

“The Questions” by Jack Collins

How Long? How careful? Will it be the same? How are they?

Have you seen any ambulances? Aren’t they listening? Am I miserable?

Am I grateful? Am I spoiled? Was it any good before? How do we come back?

Was it that that killed them?

How much support is there in a round of applause?

What can I do? Too slow? Am I miserable?

Am I grateful? Am I spoiled? Am I broken? Is that just lazy?

Did you know them?

Should I though?

What did we lose?

Can any good come? Who is dying there alone? Am I miserable?

Am I grateful? Am I spoiled? Am I broken?

Did your skin touch theirs?

When does the mo(u)rning begin?

Can you cry for numbers?

Is the spirit sturdy or numb?

Who do we turn to?

Are we okay?

Am I miserable?

Am I grateful?

Am I spoiled?

Am I broken yet?

Enjoyed this interview?

Grafters Space is the place for creatives to connect with communities and discuss or share their work around important social issues. If you are a creative or residents in Armley or the wider West Leeds area, and you’d like to share your experiences and work on Grafters Space, get in touch from the contact page above or drop us a message on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Published by graftcollaborativecic

Graft Collaborative is a non-profit Community Interest Company established to support emerging creative practitioners from a range of artistic and performative disciplines through the development of engaging projects involving Leeds-based communities to highlight and engage residents with important social issues. This will be achieved by creating and developing opportunities for communities to engage and participate in artistic projects from emerging artistic and performative practitioners.

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