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Mental Health and Theatre

Sometimes, things can just become a bit too much. For everyone. You don’t have to be a world-famous actor, a star, or even somebody a tiny bit famous to think that the world is becoming too heavy to handle. An ‘average’ person that you have passed on the street this morning, while taking the kids to school, or whilst doing your daily food shop, is likely to have things going on in their head that makes them feel like the whole world is on their shoulders.

According to Mind UK statistics, around 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems per year. Currently, in the Elemental Theatre Company, there are 8 of us… which means 2 of us could potentially be suffering with mental health problems, whilst still putting on a front and doing the best damn job of acting that we could possibly do. Also, these are just statistics, and so there is a high chance that there could be more than 2 of us suffering.

I study Psychology, and so the mind really interests me. What interests me in particular is mental health (which you probably could’ve guessed, seeing as I am writing a blog post titled ‘Mental Health and Theatre'…). I find it so intriguing to know that the most common mental illness is depression, and the 10th most common is generalised anxiety. There are so many ways that these kind of mental illnesses can be treated, such as meditation, counselling, and prescription drugs. These are all solid ways of helping yourself, and decreasing the symptoms you may be experiencing. Alongside this, is acting. Now, I’m not saying that if you suffer from depression you HAVE to try acting, and you will be cured – it doesn’t work that way. But what I am saying is that acting is, in my personal experience, one of the best ways to forget how you feel at that particular time in reality, and transport yourself to a make believe world where you can feel almost any emotion that you want. For example, actors are typically used to feeling that dreaded anxiety before the curtain goes up, but sometimes, it can become more than just this. In times like these, I have been told it is useful for this anxiety to feel like adrenaline, as it alleviates any other anxieties you may have experienced that day.

Amateur dramatics is like a family extension that was never there. The cast or company you are working with see you through some tough times, allowing you to experience every emotion under the sun portrayed through the character you are playing – so what makes it different when you begin to experience these emotions in reality. From personal experience, I have found that my drama group are the most accepting and comforting people, and this is the point I am trying to make. Drama families are there, to help you through almost anything, and so this is why acting may help to alleviate the types of negative emotions that you are feeling. Why should you hide behind a character when in reality, your cast are probably some of the most supportive people you will meet? Drama, for me, allows a world of comfort and support. And that is why I think acting can help your mental illnesses, even if only slightly, to disappear for an hour or two, while you surround yourself with the love of compassion and drama.

However, this may not work for some people, and that is absolutely fine. There are many different techniques and strengths that people use to cope when things get rough, and if this doesn’t seem right for you then that is fine. Just simply chatting to friends can be enough. The main message that I want you to take away from this blog, is that it is ok not to be ok, and that friends are there to support you, no matter what. And in my personal experience, it seems that my theatre family have been the most supportive of those who are suffering.

Elise Radford, October 2019


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