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Mental health charity to stage 'Mad Aid' concert

Scottish bands and medical professionals join forces to raise awareness

What would you call a music festival aimed at removing the stigma attached to mental illness? What else but Mad Aid.

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The controversial idea comes from the chief executive of Scotland's leading mental health charity, and already the concert has received support from psychologists and the Scottish band Mogwai.

Shona Neil, the chief executive of the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) has pencilled in 2008 as the year for the ambitious project which she hopes could do for Scotland's mental health what Live Aid did for famine.

Neil was involved in an earlier campaign entitled One In Four, which included performances from Scottish bands Snow Patrol, Arab Strap and Mogwai, amongst others. A subsequent CD and advice booklet was distributed to more than 250,000 people in 2003.

Addressing the fact that two people every day commit suicide in Scotland, Neil has already been in meetings with music psychologists at Gartnavel hospital, Glasgow Caledonian University and council representatives to discuss a series of "trial run" club nights later this year.

"The idea of calling it Mad Aid is for people who have experienced their own mental health problems reclaiming it as their own," explained Neil.

"We will start from the ground up but what we ultimately need is to get some big names in the music industry involved.

"Let's stop apologising for having mental health problems, let's not pussyfoot about. Of course the experiences can be very painful, but most people do recover and consider the period as having in some way enriched their lives."

Working on the dual role of music as both healer and tool to attract the masses, Neil is adamant the concert is as necessary as ever, with a recent study estimating the social and economic costs of mental health in Scotland amounted to £8.6 billion in 2005, equivalent to 9% of the GDP.

She added: "This is not something meant to be on the periphery of our radar. It touches all of us in some way and kills many, but we don't treat it with the same interest as cancer or heart disease."

Internationally renowned Glasgow band Mogwai played a gig during One In Four and despite a continually hectic touring schedule, frontman Stuart Braithwaite has signalled they would be happy to lend their support once more.

Braithwaite said: "Like everyone, we know people who suffer and have suffered from mental health problems though it wasn't a close connection that encouraged us to help with One In Four. It really just seemed very worthwhile and tangible way to bring attention to the issues.

"Mad Aid is an eye-catching name though I'm not quite sure those getting the help would be that keen on getting called mad, but it's clearly based in humour. We haven't been approached about this new event but we are always keen to help good causes such as this if we can."

The positive impact of music upon mental health has been long established and at Gartnavel a music project named Polyphony gives patients access to musical activities on the ward. Gartnavel psychologist Alistair Wilson has organised a small music festival at the hospital this month and hopes Mad Aid will shift the public perception.

"It's still got this stigma," said Wilson. "The gay pride marches changed the way homosexual people are regarded and mental illness needs the same kind of political movement.

"One of the great strengths of Glasgow is the amount of music in the city and the tremendous drive towards creativity here. When we set Polyphony up we thought it would be very low-key music, but we have found there are some amazing and talented musicians in the psychiatric system who just need to be given space and opportunity."

Minister for public health Shona Robison welcomed the concept. She said: "We firmly believe that stigma and discrimination directed at people with mental health problems are unacceptable and we support any proposals to address this."

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