Brussels info centre encourages visitors to talk mental health

Summary

Muntpunt, the Flemish library and information centre in central Brussels, is devoting a month-long programme to mental health issues with a twofold aim – pointing people to local sources of support and reminding them that imperfection doesn’t have to be a bad thing

A living library

Imperfection is the name of the game at the Muntpunt library and community centre this month, as they look to raise awareness of mental health issues. Perfect People Have No Stories is a month-long campaign to help chip away at the stigma of talking about mental health, as well as to make people aware of local sources of support.

“We’re an information centre: We don’t have all the answers ourselves, so our job is to point people in the direction of places that can help,” explains spokesperson Eva Drees. “In this case it’s with mental health, but it could be on any topic.”

The Flemish centre in the heart of Brussels is working with a dozen partners with specialist knowledge in the mental health field. Muntpunt’s programmes always start with the partner organisations, Drees explains. “We talk to them to find out what they think is a good story to tell, what hasn’t been sufficiently highlighted elsewhere; then we look at the best way to present it.”

Perfect People takes the form of art, conversation and interaction. The programme kicks off with an exhibition, Fruitful and Fragile Minds, followed by a talk by psychiatrist Erik Thys on the link between art and mental vulnerability on the opening night.

Over the following weeks, the programme takes in a variety of events for adults and children – mostly in Dutch but some requiring no language at all – such as a concert called The Sound of Madness, performed in the lobby by next door neighbour De Munt.

A normality test

Fruitful and Fragile Minds features portraits by artists who are linked to psychiatry. They don’t necessarily all have mental health issues, but they have a connection, whether through family members or through having worked in mental health care. “It shows other people who have experienced problems, and you can empathise and feel connected,” Drees explains.

Her favourite event is the Living Library, in which visitors get to know not characters in books but real-life humans, who share their stories in one-to-one sessions. “It’s a group of regular people who have volunteered to tell their own stories,” she explains. “You get a story, but the fun part is you can ask questions and elaborate on the parts that interest you.”

We want to show people that there are others experiencing problems, and that it’s OK to talk about it

- Muntpunt spokesperson Eva Drees

Living Library is organised by VVGG, the Flemish association for mental health, which has tried and tested the project before in various libraries. “Every time you get a slightly different story,” says Drees. “It’s not rehearsed, so it’s told in a different way each time. They react to the person who’s sitting with them and go with whatever questions they ask them.”

The idea of the campaign, she says, is to remind people that imperfection doesn’t have to be a bad thing. “We want to show people that they don’t have to be the perfect mum, the perfect husband, the perfect career woman … to show them there are other people experiencing problems, and that it’s OK to talk about it.” 

Muntpunt has three main functions: as a library, to promote Brussels and to provide information. In its larger projects, it aims to incorporate all three elements. During Perfect People, the librarians play their part by picking a selection of relevant texts to provide background reading for those interested in going a bit deeper.

Pscyhologists will put visitors through a “normality test”, children can join in a choose-your-adventure game based on being open about your emotions, people who care for others with mental illnesses will take part in a conversation table, and a lecture by Dutch author Diana Koster will expound her theory that perfect parents don’t exist.

Finally, Flemish novelist Saskia de Coster will be part of an event that looks at how to create empathy and how literature can be a form of therapy.

2-26 March at Muntpunt, Munt 6, Brussels

Photo courtesy Muntpunt