Creating Better Mental Health in the Performing Arts
“We have this attitude towards our work that is that it’s our passion, it’s our love and it’s part of who we are,” Sydney-based theater director, writer and producer Richard Carroll told a group of mental health professionals. Carroll continued that this “glorious” aspect of working in the performing arts is also a source of conflict. Carroll added: “People can have a hard time expecting to be paid well for what they do, to be treated well.”
The challenges of mental health were raised by Carroll and others at an online event hosted by the Performing Arts and Entertainment Industry Interest Group of the Australian Psychological Society, where Mental health experts met people with lived experience in the arts sector.
Dr. Glen Hosking, Clinical Psychologist and Focus Group Facilitator, asked three performing arts workers a question: “How can we as psychologists better understand and serve the industry?” “
Dr Jane Miskovic-Wheatley and Dr Julie Crabtree joined Hosking to facilitate the session, both clinical psychologists with extensive experience working with the creative industries.
Speaking on how best to serve the industry, Miskovic-Wheatley said: “I think it really makes a difference when you are really passionate about the arts and entertainment industry.” Her own passion stems from twenty years of experience in the theater as a director, choreographer and teacher.
How performance impacts mental health
Matthew Heyward, a musical theater performer, spoke of the intensity and sporadic nature of the profession: “You might not have a job for a very long time, and then you go straight into very intense work for a very long time. intense, then it ends very abruptly. The ups and downs are both physical and emotional. “I’ve been to some great shows that have a lot of energy and fun, but also a lot of shows that are pretty emotional,” Heyward said.
The contractual basis of much of employment in industry, the associated competitiveness and the public nature of the work can be taxing. However, artists can feel called to the profession. Sharna Galvin, a Sydney-based stage and production manager, said she was warned by lecturers when she was attending acting school, “that if we could do anything other than acting, do it” . Most of us said, “There was nothing else we could do! “
Comparison and negative self-assessment are constant challenges. Carroll observed, “No matter how good your reviews are, the next time someone you know gets a rave review, it’s immediately like, my God, my career is over.” This is exacerbated by scrutiny. “It’s really hard to ignore what people are saying about you,” Carroll said.
The Mental Health Risks of COVID-19
“It’s really important to recognize that the industry was gone for an entire year, overnight,” Heyward told the group. In a profession already characterized by anxiety – the anxiety of getting a job, of doing your best night after night – the specter of COVID-19 represents yet another strain. Heyward acknowledged that “businesses have to make money and sell tickets again,” but questioned the wisdom of “rushing to work without a minute to recognize that your coping mechanisms may have a problem. little changed from last year, your resilience may be declining. ‘
Galvin identified the guilt associated with being one of the lucky ones who kept their jobs: “We all have peers who didn’t do so well and just didn’t have any support. In an industry that is no stranger to natural attrition, Galvin observed, “The acceleration of this attrition impacts peers who just watch the devastation around them. “
However, both Galvin and Heyward have pointed out that one of the silver liners of the COVID-19 lockdown has been the challenge of the ‘the show must go on’ mentality. “We now have precedent in COVID as to why the show can’t go on,” said Galvin, “If you sniffle you can’t come to work. If you have a mental health issue, you can talk to someone. one and you don’t have to come to work.
Build on the strengths inherent in the performer to build resilience
Coming out of the COVID-19 lockdown, Miskovic-Wheatley found grieving and adjustment work to be invaluable for performing artists seeking support, as well as for goal setting. To the psychologists in attendance, she said, “Our responsibility is to help practitioners think about the long-term marathon rather than short-term stressors. I always come back to trying to keep people healthy and well while they are doing the job they choose to do.
Cognitive restructuring – the process of challenging unnecessary thought patterns – is not always productive when the source of stressors is so often out of people’s control. However, Carroll observed that creative people are used to reinterpreting it as, “We’re less intimidated by the idea of trying a perspective and seeing what we think of it.” ”
Likewise, the same emotional vulnerability that contributes to work intensity also helps develop emotional intelligence. “We’re better equipped to be open about emotions and to speak candidly,” Carroll said. General community resilience and rituals within performing arts practices were other strengths identified by panelists. “We work with a lot of routine, the actors warm up and the crew members make their settings the same every time,” said Galvin. “It’s kind of a mindfulness practice.”
Heyward, who also works as a project coordinator for the Arts Wellbeing Collective, unfortunately observed that a lack of understanding on the part of some psychologists presented a barrier. “I know a lot of people who have taken this step to ask for help if they are not so well and I have looked for a therapist to see and unfortunately that therapist may not have understood what was our background. This person did not appreciate the experience and did not look back. The challenge for mental health professionals is to understand the peculiarities of the arts sector.
Fortunately, understanding of mental health issues related to the profession is improving both among the performing arts industry and mental health practitioners. Targeted searches facilitated by organizations such as Entertainment Assist and resources made available by the Arts Wellbeing Collective are among the many positive directions. Mental health practitioners specializing in the field can be found through the Australian Psychological Society’s Special Interest Group and organizations such as the Australian Society for the Performing Arts.
“As artists, we are all taught that failure is part of learning, but we are not allowed to fail,” said Galvin. It can be difficult to bring up the topic of mental health when the show has to go on. However, panelists conceded that the stigma around the topic was finally disappearing. Miskovic-Wheatley observed: “I have found over the past two years that the conversation has really opened up to the fact that if we don’t take care of our people, we don’t take care of the industry, we let’s not take care of our creative practice. ‘
Performers can request assistance from the Hotline Support Act Wellbeing (1800 959 500). If you find any of the issues raised in this story distressing, please contact Safety rope24 hour crisis hotline: 13 11 14.
How can psychologists work effectively with the performing arts industry? A roundtable took place on June 21.