Katie Webber: We need both science and art to help us heal

Undated handout photo issued by Kensington Palace of (left to right) Dermot O'Leary, Clara Amfo and

Dermot O'Leary, Clara Amfo and the Duke of Cambridge are among the famous faces set to be involved in an awards ceremony for the the Duke’s Earthshot Prize - Credit: PA

A passion for wellbeing with Katie Webber:

Last Sunday marked World Mental Health Day.

My Instagram feed was full of reassuring, supportive words encouraging people struggling with sickness to reach out for help, and take steps to look after ourselves. 

This Sunday the inaugural Earthshot prize will be held in London.

The event will acknowledge and reward innovators working to develop solutions to help heal our struggling planet, enabling us to continue living sophisticated, comfortable lives without sacrificing it’s wellbeing and ultimately our shared existence.

I see clear parallels between mental and planetary wellbeing.

Someone born with a prevalence to mental ill health might be likened to a part of the world located on a fault line, or prone to flooding.

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Both are at constant risk of the debilitating, all too often tragic effects of natural disaster, always having to be vigilant to the signs of onset.

Like the people living in those places, those of us living with incurable health conditions can prepare for episodes of illness by finding medication and adopting lifestyles that make the effects of these episodes less destructive and easier to recover and rebuild from.

Thanks to science and awareness, we can predict and prepare for so much these days.

Unfortunately, not all episodes of planetary and mental ill health are predictable.

No-one who lived through it, even from a safe distance, will forget the tsunami of 2004, and the number of people feeling the effects of mental ill health as a result of the pandemic and the stresses of modern life is known to be increasing.

Our activities are making us and the planet sick, and I for one am grateful that the same sorts of bright minds who developed the Covid vaccine in record time, as well as the brave individuals who have spoken out about mental illness, are working to help us understand and heal.

The fact that the Earthshot prize ceremony will be broadcast on BBC One in a prime time Sunday evening slot confirms that, like mental health, planetary wellbeing has made it onto the radar of popular culture, and that can only be a good thing.

A great friend of mine works for a charity called Malaria No More.

During the pandemic she and I spoke about the remarkable injustice of the speed and precision with which the Covid vaccine was developed and rolled out, when malaria has been needlessly killing so many millions of people around the globe for so many years, the vaccines against it sitting in laboratories, waiting for the sort of investment and passion that the former, for largely economic reasons, simply had to receive.

Last week something changed. The World Health Organisation started to roll out a ground-breaking malaria vaccine trial in some of the worst affected African countries.

The pessimist in me feels sad that it had to take a global pandemic to make this happen. The optimist in me feels hopeful.

She sees the rippling signs of a butterfly effect, the wings of which could, surely, given how brilliant some of the minds we house on our planet are, help us fly to healthy, sustainable heights, both personal and planetary, that we could once, not so very long ago, only have dreamed about.

Last week also marked National Poetry Day.

I am consistently amazed that so many people, past and present, survivors of mental illness, found the ability and will to create examples of incredible beauty; pieces of art that have sustained.

From Vincent Van Gogh and Leonard Bernstein to Marie Curie and Stephen Fry, these individuals help us to understand and appreciate the world around us.

I believe we need both science and art to help us heal, and it’s clear that as a race we have people gifted in both areas, people who we simply need to nurture and invest in. 

I’ll end with the words of the late poet Emily Dickinson, who apparently suffered from bipolar disorder at a time when nobody understood what it was.

A friend of mine sent them to me during a dark time, and I always keep them close.

“Hope is the bird with feathers, that nestles in the soul, that sings the songs without the words, and never stops, at all.” 

The Earthshot prize will be broadcast on BBC One this Sunday at 8pm.