“These are the final 12” She said to me pointing at her phone. I was eating lunch and I couldn’t even imagine what she meant. “Final 12 of?” I continued “Xfactor!”, she exclaimed, “final 12 on Xfactor” Oh, I went, it was only my first day at the mental health cafe. She went on to describe the contestants in detail while I asked for pictures. In the cafe, she was just another person with a particular way of communicating and the added skill of describing things in great detail, straight from memory, in the outside world she would be labelled as “handicapped”
This year has been the toughest year of my life and with suffering, it’s easy for us to disappear into ourselves. Imagine how many other people are going through the same or much worse, we end up with a society where hearts are blocked off from each other.
When I got back to London, after many days of rolling in the dark, I resolved that one of the best ways to get myself out of darkness was to reach out to others. Luckily at the same time I had been introduced to a project by a man whom I’d met and helped earlier in the year.
This project is helping people cope with some mental health challenges. While I was researching around how to connect with more people with these difficulties, I met another man who introduced me to the Dragon Cafe, a pop up mental health cafe, that opens up every Monday in Borough. I was so happy.
“The whole point, is to be a complete antithesis to your average mental health service. People like it, because there’s no pressure to do anything at all. They can sing, if they want to. They can write. They can paint. But they can also just collapse on a bean bag and snore”.
The first day was amazing. Over the course of my volunteering I came to see how many were regulars, why they come to the cafe, how it relaxes them and the friends they make. Every single person in the cafe both volunteers and guests have/had mental health challenges so it makes it easier to talk to people. I work at the art table and I get to see how much being able to ‘play’ makes people happy, free and connected.
As a UX practitioner, it was a no brainer to be amongst those I would be designing for, even though I face mental health challenges myself. As a human, I knew it made sense to be able to connect with others, to come out of oneself. For me, going there helps to build my empathy for others, to understand other perspectives like the lady I had an interesting conversation with about Xfactor, not to be too hard on myself, to accept orders from others, to co operate with people (we pack up the cafe at night)
A wonderful announcement was made yesterday, some people from PWC will be creating a similar pop up in the City. The cafe makes so much sense and my hope is many more such cafes are created, if you aren’t too busy why not pay a visit or donate to the cause.