Creative Minds: Mental health on (and off) the stage

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In recent years there has been a growing focus on building and maintaining spaces that are open and supportive of mental health issues, and so there should be. Many argue that it’s long overdue and that we should even be doing more to assess, diagnose and tackle the effects of mental illness. But criticisms aside (for now) as well as the general fight for awareness, the growing conversation has allowed for a more context-specific light to be cast upon those struggling with their mental health in the entertainment industry.

In 2014 Spotlight, Equity and The Stage came together to form ‘The Arts & Minds Initiative’ after an ‘outpouring of comment’ on issues of mental well-being in those in the creative industries. Initially the three powerhouses behind the scheme, now simply known as ArtsMinds (along with BAPAM, the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine) came together to uncover just how many were experiencing struggles with mental health in their industry. More recently though their focus has shifted to opening up the discussion on mental health, challenging stigma and sharing stories from the community in order to promote a safe and supportive space. Which is unsurprising considering their original surveys showed that of roughly 5000 people, 1178 said that mental health issues had impacted their career in some way.

Clearly it’s an area that is in need of attention. But is the industry doing enough to support mentally ill creatives?

logoArguably, yes. ArtsMinds has a wealth of resources such as help and advice on finances, relationships and your career. They also publish regular ‘stories’, such as reports on mental health charities and interviews with celebrities talking about their own mental health experiences, as well as their ongoing slot at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, ‘The Sanctuary’ (A pop-up in Fringe Central advertised as a ‘calm, quiet space away from the madding crowd’ for Fringe participants. And even get a massage if they fancy it.) And yet the work of this collaboration is not exactly the first thing that comes up in your google search if you don’t happen to know the name ArtsMinds. Though the initiative is no doubt a positive influence in the community, its promotion may leave something to be desired.

Perhaps it isn’t enough to invest in setting up these support systems in the first place. And though that is arguably difficult enough, a certain amount needs to be invested in promotion also; across entertainment venues as well as freely on social media. ArtsMinds is a terrific organisation providing an important and very necessary support system for the entertainment industry, but if a collaboration starts up in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

ArtsMinds is something we should be making a bit more of a song and dance about. Their inclusivity and positive attitude to seeking help are things we need in modern society as whole, but in particular for creatives. The work of the creative is so much about the self, and so it is all too easy for personal life and work to become intertwined. But this can mean that professional doubts and concerns bleed over too. As creatives we are both the promoter and the product, and so negativity and stress can sometimes feel more personal than it really is. We are supposed to be our best ally but too often we end up being our worst enemy. The discussion about mental health is already opening up, and though it may be a world away from how past generations have talked about mental health, there is still a long way to go. A general discussion is not enough. Groups like ArtsMinds are finally bringing the targeted conversations to the forefront, addressing specific issues in specific contexts, which is exactly what we need. Because just as mental illnesses behave differently in different people, different people require a different discussion on mental health.

You can visit ArtsMinds’ website at http://www.artsminds.co.uk

This article is the first in a new series focusing on mental health in the creative industries. Each fortnight there will be a new piece, with content ranging from advice and tips to interviews with and reports on creatives with mental illness, all with the aim of opening up the conversation on (and dispelling myths and stigma about) mental health in our industry.

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