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Seaneen Meets... Mark Brown

by Seaneen Molloy

14th June 2010

Today, I'm at that temple to modernism, London's Barbican Centre. Unusually, I greet my interviewee Mark Brown with a hug. Not only is he a friend, but the editor of One in Four magazine, the UK's only professionally produced publication written by and for people with mental health difficulties. The name is taken from the statistic that one in four people will experience mental health issues in their lifetime.

So what’s the occasion? One in Four has reached its second birthday and Mark is enthusiastically reflecting on the aspirational mag’s philosophy, with me. The important message it conveys, he says, is: “You can have whichever life you want, and here are some steps you can take to get closer to it”.
Mark Brown with Seaneen Molloy
And Mark has taken a few 'steps' himself. He experienced a mental health crisis in his twenties, and struggled to find relevant resources and inspiration to aid his recovery.

“I found a lot of abstract information that talked about conditions and treatments, but nothing about getting on with life with a mental health difficulty. There were no role models."

His own turning point, he says, was coming into contact with services and people who helped him believe there might be a way through the bad times. “I still had my difficulties but things were better”.
He started One in Four to place people with mental health difficulties at the heart of providing information and ideas on new ways of living.

“One of the radical things we do is that we don't tell people that we know what's best for them. We say: We've been there, we understand what your worries might be”".

I ask if being 'aspirational' means that more incapacitating aspects of living with mental health problems are ignored by the magazine. Mark has a clear response: “I really want to shake people out of the older ways of seeing mental health. A diagnosis is a set of challenges, not an identity, and is less important than what you want to do in your life. One in Four is aimed at the many, not at the few.”
Seaneen and Mark
Seaneen asks Mark what it means to be aspirational       &nbsp
What began as an idea over a fry up, now circulates 11,000 issues quarterly. Mark is justly proud of what he's achieved in the first two years.

“The highlights for me aren't big things, they're going out and talking to people and seeing what they think of the magazine, whether there's stuff we do that helps, or that doesn't.

“Interviewing Alastair Campbell was fascinating. We talked about his experiences of depression and alcoholism and how that interacted with his job. It excited me because it proved that you don't have to be a certain 'type' to have mental health difficulties”.
One in Four has also been involved in Open Up, a campaign which encourages people to discuss their mental health difficulties. In February, they hosted a conference to challenge the mainstream media approach to the subject. It was almost entirely led by people with mental health difficulties, many of whom were also professionals in the field. It did include a couple of speakers without direct personal experience, though. Mark points out that it's usually the other way round.
"One in Four is not a campaigning publication," he's keen to tell me. “Sometimes it seems that people in difficult situations are given the choice between changing nothing and trying to change the world. There's loads of space for abstract debate and theoretical wrangling, but this doesn't address the experience of getting up in the morning, communicating with family, or of moving on in your career. That's what One in Four does.

"We don't think that life's perfect, but sometimes it seems we're the only voice saying positive things about what is possible in mental health recovery."
Mark Brown and Seaneen Molloy
Mark believes in an inclusive approach br> to generating content for One In Four  &nbsp
I'm interested to know what the future holds for One in Four.

Mark explains that their aims are to influence how mental health issues are communicated in government and in the media. The key, he argues, is to include people with mental health difficulties in both generating ideas and sharing their wisdom with other people in the same boat.

I tell him that this sounds ambitious ... but Mark is convinced that One In Four is playing a positive role in helping the process of change along.

"We want to show that challenges can be overcome by 'normal' people with mental health difficulties. The magazine is created by people with mental health difficulties and I hope that this gives us an important place in people's lives.

"It's early days still. In our third year we want to promote the idea of people with mental health difficulties solving problems. In particular, principle-driven companies that are moving away from the old charity model of providing for the 'less fortunate'. We want to do this for ourselves. There's so much we could do in the future if we can just hang in there and not lose our nerve”.

• Mark Brown is one of the nominees for the 2010 Mind Champion of the year. Find out who else is on the shortlist and vote for your favourite by visiting the Mind website.

Latest edition

Articles in the latest edition of One in Four, include: 'A change is as good as a rest: Ways to get the holiday you need without the stress you don't'. It also contains a feature which busts the myth that only soldiers get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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