About us Blog Guest blog: author Rachel Kelly on her new book, mental health, poetry and United Response At about the time I finished writing Black Rainbow, my memoir about how poetry helped me overcome depression, I met Martyn Lewis, the journalist and President of United Response. We bonded over a shared love of poetry: Martyn has edited a collection of poems – Seasons of Our Lives – while I had co-edited iF: A Treasury of Poems for Almost Every Possibility for Canongate. Martyn also told me of his charitable endeavors, and of United Response’s extraordinary work. This immediately resonated with me. One of the charity's aims is to support people at home when unwell, either with physical disabilities or mental health problems, and I knew from my own brush with a psychiatric hospital how important it is to be cared for at home, if possible. I decided to donate any proceeds from my bookand its companion app to the charity, jointly with SANE. My book started life as letters and emails to friends. They knew I had been through depression and, when they were down, turned to me for poetry recommendations that might meet their specific emotional needs. I had in fact been recommending poetry for specific maladies since university, years before I suffered from depression. I didn’t study English, so my enjoyment of poetry wasn’t inhibited by academic valuations of a poet’s weight or self-conscious connoisseurship. I wasn’t analyzing the poems or disassembling them to see how they worked: I was letting them speak to me as they were, and as I was at the time. My favourite poet is George Herbert: John Donne’s quiet godson. Herbert may have been diagnosed with depression had he lived today, and his poems are only with us because he intended them for the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of others. Shortly before his death he sent them to a friend, requesting he publish them only if he believed they could ‘turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul.’ I would certainly count myself as among those dejected souls that his words have healed. Though I have liked Herbert all my life, long before my first depressive episode, I found in his words the most perfect capturing of what it felt like to suffer depression. His poem ‘Love’ opens thus: ‘Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, / Guilty of dust and sin.’ It was this inability to engage with positivity, to be in a way barred from love with which I identified, as well as the sense of shame that comes with depression. ‘Guilty of dust and sin’ accurately expressed a feeling of wishing to leave no physical trace, and also chimes with how Anne Sexton would describe clinical depression almost four hundred years later in ‘The Sickness unto Death.’ The poet feels vacated by spirituality, and left as a piece of meat. She is not worthy enough even to eat, because God is evident in food and not in her. This poem had quite a different use for me during my first depressive episode: a friend gave it to my husband, who was advised to show it to visitors who might not understand, or be aware of the physicality of depression. As I wasn’t well enough to see anyone, this poem gave me a mouthpiece, and also a kind of legitimacy: though the stigma of mental illness is lessening, there are still many who dismiss depression because the effects of it are invisible to them. Hopefully, through my book, and through the work of organisations like United Response, people can be made a little more aware of mental health issues. Rachel Kelly’s memoir Black Rainbow: how words healed me – my journey through depression is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 26th April. Copies can be ordered from Amazon. Its accompanying app, also called Black Rainbow, is available for download on the Apple app store. All author proceeds of the book and app are being given to the charities SANE and United Response. Follow Rachel @rache_Kelly or go to www.black-rainbow.co.uk United Response has launched a creative project called Postcards of Hope, in collaboration with Rachel. Poetry helped Rachel through her depression - now we want you to share something which has given you hope. Whether it’s poetry, a work of art, a powerful message or something you’ve created, please capture it on a postcard, where you will also find many other postcards and ideas.