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Jessica MacLaren a professor at Edinburgh Napier University for Mental Health Nursing is enquiring about the emotional labour the Mental Health Nurses do. Jessica wanted to use art as a way of having conversations about the emotional labour. I was lucky enough to be part of this 6 week project during the Covid-19 lockdown. The 6 participants were sent a parcel of art / craft materials with the instructions not to open them until we all met (on line via an online meeting).

Jessica Howarth was the artist facilitator for the project. The facilitation of the project forms an important part of Jessica Howarth’s portfolio as a socially engaged teaching artist. You can find more information on her website here:

I had no idea what the “art” would be that we would have to do and I was quite anxious because I can’t draw! I was thrilled however that it turned out to be a sewing / embroidery project.

The idea was that we embroider a face mask, however there were three layers to the mask, each layer representing a layer of emotion. Inner emotions, a filter and external mask with our professional or outward facing emotions.

We met once a week (virtually) on a Wednesday evening for 2 hours. We stitched and talked about what it meant to work emotionally as a mental health nurse. There were mental health nurses from Aberdeen to Anglesey and Somerset.

The masks will be displayed in frames at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and St. Johns Hospital Edinburgh, before being part of the Science festival in 2021.

Below is what accompanies the mask in the exhibition.

I have seen the benefits of working with the arts in general in a mental health setting. Normally I focus on the benefits of the arts and creativity for patients. Being given an opportunity to do this project was exiting because it gave me the opportunity to do something creative myself. I jumped at the opportunity.


Having a project like this during COVID-19 was also something that meant a lot to me. Meeting people from across the UK for a joint creative project was refreshing. Because we were all from the same professional background and had a joint creative focus it very quickly became a very supportive and reflective group. Possibly the most reflective group I have had the pleasure of being part of. I think that had to do with the fact that we were focused on stitching and being creative at the same time as having a conversation.

I am passionate about art in health care. Art for arts sake and not as therapy. I think everyone needs some sort of art and creativity for their wellbeing and sanity. Recovering from any mental health crisis needs to be built on a solid foundation of wellbeing I think. The arts and creativity can help to make that foundation solid.

I hope you enjoy looking at the different masks. The fabrics, the colours the different way of displaying them. I hope you can see the fun, enjoyment and the challenge that was had making them.

What shapes would you use? What colours would you choose to represent your emotions on all three layers of the mask? The professional layer, the filter and the personal layer.

The choices I made at the time might not be the choices I would make again, for me it was the process that was the most important thing and not the finished article.

Once Upon a Time. Words of magic and promise.

A continuing thread from inner mask that wanders through the filter and on to the outer mask. This is to represent that my inner emotions are not disconnected from my external emotions or mask.

The inner mask is swirling patterns in colours of hope and insecurity.

The white mask, which is the filter shows time, which is important for me to filter between work and home life. Also there is a compass which signifies that my filter helps me keep orientated and brings me back to the right place so that I can present the external mask and emotions in a more congruent and consistent manner which is needed I think to present professional and congruent emotions.