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National Gallery audio tour tackles mental health myths

Issued October 2019

The first mental health awareness audio tour of the National Gallery is launching on World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2019.

Researchers from King’s College London and the McPin Foundation have co-created the audio tour with a group of young people including some affected by mental health issues, alongside members of the Gallery’s Young Producers programme. The Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, and the British Academy have generously funded the tour, which is available free to visitors for six months.

The audio tour aims to improve understanding of mental health among visitors to the Gallery, providing an opportunity to see its collection in an alternative way. The tour draws on young people’s experiences of mental health and connects these with the Gallery’s paintings in order to challenge common myths about mental health and immerse visitors in the experiences of the young creators.

The tour invites the listener to consider their views on mental health and reflect on their own wellbeing as they are guided round the Gallery. Visitors will be able to focus on paintings by Van Gogh, Cima, Crivelli and Joseph Wright of Derby as well as the Gallery’s architecture and figures from its Portico entrance mosaic flooring such as Virginia Woolf and Churchill.

Project leader Dr Helen Fisher, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s, says ‘Mental health remains misunderstood in UK society, with many people affected by mental health issues left isolated and unsupported. It is wonderful to work with young people on new and creative ways to encourage public conversations about mental health, so that everyone feels more comfortable asking for help and talking about how they feel.’

Increasing openness to conversations about mental health in UK society provides an opportunity to break down long-held stigmatising views about people with mental health issues. Each year, the National Gallery opens its doors to over six million visitors from all over the world. Open to all, it serves a very wide and diverse public.

The audio tour is available as a smartphone app, created by Antenna International, so that visitors can simply plug in headphones and be guided to different stops in the Gallery

The content of the tour was created through workshops with 16–25 year olds, several of whom have lived experience of mental health issues, supported by the McPin Foundation. The views and experiences of these young people were then matched with artworks and spaces in the Gallery by Dr Fisher and members of the Gallery’s Young Producers programme, which aims to build the relevance of the Collection for young audiences.

Young Producer Amber Goneni says: ‘As Campaigns Officer at Arts SU I was excited to be involved with this project as I've seen first-hand how many of the myths discussed in the tour negatively affect people's ability to seek and receive help. The Gallery will be the perfect place for the quiet contemplation and honest reflection of the themes of this tour.’

Young Producer Aleks Orehova says: ‘We all look at paintings differently and it’s thrilling to offer the public a new viewpoint on art and mental health. As a mental health nurse outside the Gallery, I think it is crucial to provide public space to connect and empathise with the voices of young people experiencing mental health problems.’

Niamh Elam, member of The McPin Foundation’s Young People’s Network, says: ‘When I was given the opportunity of being a part of creating this audio tour, I took it with open arms. As the meetings went on we undertook a variety of tasks to map out the tour. This involved discussing the paintings and the emotions they evoked in us in relation to our own experiences. The overall experience is one that enriched my mental health and knowledge of art.’

Anna Murray, the Communities and Access Programmer at the National Gallery, says: ‘This is a wonderful initiative to raise mental health awareness through our collection. By offering an audio guide which focuses on people’s responses rather than art historical interpretation, it will provide visitors with a new way of seeing our pictures and challenges some of the myths surrounding mental health.’

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, says: ‘Talking more about our feelings is crucial for improving mental health and removing the stigma that surrounds it. Half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and we need to understand how the complex interplay of genetics, upbringing and environment contributes to this. By supporting the audio tour at the National Gallery, we hope to spark new conversations and highlight the importance of research in preventing and treating mental health problems.’


For interviews or any further media information please contact: Robin Bisson, Senior Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, / +44 20 7848 5377 / +44 7718 697176.

Images and audio

Find images and a sample audio clip from the tour.

Social Media

Use #NGmentalhealth to tweet about the audio tour

About King’s College London and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

King's College London is one of the top 10 UK universities in the world (QS World University Rankings, 2018/19) and is among the oldest universities in England. King's has an outstanding reputation for world-class teaching and cutting-edge research.  Since our foundation, King’s students and staff have dedicated themselves in the service of society. King’s will continue to focus on world-leading education, research and service, and will have an increasingly proactive role to play in a more interconnected, complex world.

The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London is the premier centre for mental health and related neurosciences research in Europe. It produces more highly cited publications in psychiatry and mental health than any other university in the world (Scopus, 2016), with 21 of the most highly cited scientists in this field. World-leading research from the IoPPN has made, and continues to make, an impact on how we understand, prevent and treat mental illness and other conditions that affect the brain.

About the Medical Research Council

The Medical Research Council is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-two MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. The Medical Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation.

About the National Gallery

The National Gallery is one of the greatest art galleries in the world. Founded by Parliament in 1824, the Gallery houses the nation’s collection of paintings in the Western European tradition from the late 13th to the early 20th century. The collection includes works by Bellini, Cézanne, Degas, Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, Raphael, Rembrandt, Renoir, Rubens, Titian, Turner, Van Dyck, Van Gogh and Velázquez. The Gallery’s key objectives are to enhance the collection, care for the collection and provide the best possible access to visitors. More at  

About the McPin Foundation

The McPin Foundation is a mental health research charity. We believe that research is vital to improve the lives of people with mental health difficulties, their families and communities. We believe better mental health research is done by involving people with direct experience of the topic being researched – people who are experts by experience. We facilitate the involvement of young people in mental health research through our Young People’s Network. This is a group of young people with a range of different mental health and life experiences from across the country. We provide involvement opportunities through this network and draw on it when researchers approach us, seeking young people’s input on their mental health research project. In this way, we ensure that the voices of young people are at the heart of the work that we do.

National Gallery Press Office on 020 7747 2865 or email 
Publicity images can be obtained from