Mental Health and Access in the Arts

Hi everyone! I’ve been away from blogging for a couple of weeks due to being insanely busy, but I’m back to talk about mental health in the arts. I went to a workshop yesterday on this topic hosted by Chama Kay and Les Enfants Terribles, and I wanted to talk about some of the stats I heard there, and the experiences. And, of course, how they’ll impact Hope in Hell.

“A 2015 report by Victoria University in Australia found that performing arts workers experience symptoms of anxiety ten times higher than the general population, and depression symptoms five times higher, saying that these statistics can be directly attributed to financial insecurity and poor working conditions.” – Jessie Thompson

Here’s how it works in theatre – you work for low pay or no pay, on short term zero hours contracts, in work which demands emotional, mental and physical stamina every day, on demand. You work for any number of reasons – because it’s your calling, because it makes you fulfilled, because its what you’re trained in, etc. You joke about post show blues, or the stresses of finding work, but it’s accepted as part of the industry. Right? So it’s hardly surprising to hear that arts workers are 10 times more likely to have anxiety than the general population. Or 5 times more likely to be depressed.

Its an institutional, industrial, colossal problem, and one which is only exacerbated by the current ongoing recession and austerity measures in this country. And, to touch briefly on a huge topic, it’s a problem which is made worse if you are BAME, LGBT+, female, disabled, or a member of any other minority. At the workshop yesterday, some people spoke about experiences of subtle, sub-conscious racism – casting drug dealers as black, for example – but also about shocking incidents of outspoken racism, the type which as a white person I think of as illegal, and therefore impossible. Theatre is one of the best places to hide this type of bigotry, as casting decisions can easily be explained away as artistic, or worse, authentic, and as a who-you-know industry, the risks of calling out bigoted behaviour are high. It’s crucial not to forget that, and in that spirit I will be making a call out on Twitter commissioning a BAME theatre-maker to write a guest-blog about these issues.  Watch this space.

So what can we do to support ourselves, and each other? Chama Kay was very good at getting us thinking about this – if you’d like to see his worksheet, see the end of this blog – and he got me thinking about how a venue can support local theatre makers. My thoughts were:

  1. Be actively inclusive – if I’m interviewing for positions, half of interviewees must be from a minority group. This needs refinement, but I want to be as proactive as I can to ensure that everyone gets the opportunities they deserve.
  2. Hold support classes and workshops for creatives (regardless of their activity with the venue) – this could include group therapy type sessions, mindfulness sessions, or just a regular coffee-and-cake date
  3. Create a network for casts and crew to stay together after a show – email lists, social media groups, alumni meet ups etc, to combat the abandonment feelings that can happen once a show is over
  4. Offer support with Arts Council applications, and reminders that the Arts Council will fund accessibility support including mental health support as part of your application

I am sure more things will occur as Hope in Hell solidifies into reality, but those 4 principles should help to create sustainable working conditions for theatre makers involved in HiH, and create a positive atmosphere for working together!

Chama Kay’s Worksheet

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