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Why haven’t you signed up with industry’s mental health charter?

Rose Brufird 2 (2)

Rose Bruford College

Have you signed up to the performing arts industry’s mental health charter?

I have crummy, pronating bunion-beset feet and terrible teeth given to crumbling, decaying, chipping and falling out. All a bit of a nuisance but fortunately a good podiatrist and a brilliant dentist look after me and keep me walking and chomping. That’s what you do if you a have a health problem. You seek help and get it sorted out. You don’t suffer in silence and shame – why ever should you?

And of course, that should apply as much as it does to mental health as to physical. Sadly that’s not how many people see it. There is still a stigma attached to mental illness – whether it’s depression, anxiety, bipolar, eating disorders. OCD or whatever.

The performing arts industries have a much higher incidence of mental illness than many other professions. Life in the public eye where you are constantly putting yourself on the line being judged has a lot to answer for. Perhaps our industries attract people who already have problems which they seek to hide by performing. The work load – or worry about the uncertainty – often impedes mental well being. The estimate is that one performing arts professional in three will, at some point, suffer from mental illness.

So what are we doing about it? Not enough is the answer. We need to take every possible action to prevent the development of these illnesses in the first place as well as helping  performers and other professionals who have already have problems. Above all we need to move heaven and earth to get rid of the stigma so that people feel able to ask for and accept help. And that means conversations.

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No one has done more to address these issues than Annemarie Lewis Thomas, who founded the MTA in 2009 and her colleague Angie Peake (www.counsellingforperformers.co.uk) who works as the school’s counsellor. Peake is a dual registered (adult and mental health) nurse with an extensive background in working with young people.  Together, supported initially by just a handful of others, they have introduced #Time4Change. It’s a mental health charter for performing arts organisations aimed at ensuring that there are proper informed procedures in place so that anyone with a mental health issue gets appropriate and immediate help. Or better still is in an aware, caring environment which aims to prevent the issues from developing.

The charter is, at last.  beginning to take off. There have been some very high profile incidents of mental illness in the industry and at least one such Household Name has agreed to support the initiative. And that is excellent news. At the time of writing, nearly 50 organisations have signed up. Most of these are agents/agencies and theatre companies plus one theatre – Stratford East. The country’s leading 21 Drama Schools – with the honourable exception of the redoubtable Rose Bruford College – have, so far, been reluctant to get involved.

This is very worrying and I do hope they see sense very soon because while heels are dragged amongst the teaching and managerial staff, young people in desperate need of help are slipping through the net. One counsellor for, say, a thousand students – who might be able to offer an appointment in three week’s time on a remote bit of the campus largely unknown to the students – is simply not an adequate mental health policy. The charter puts the onus firmly on the college proactively to spot early signs of mental illness rather than waiting until the problem has escalated too. Prevention, as ever, is much better than cure.

Contact info@themta.co.uk for more information or go to www.themta.co.uk and follow the link to #Time4Change. Signing up to #Time4Change is very simple and it costs nothing. This initiative is about student and actor welfare, not profits.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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