Does the man maketh the actor or the actor maketh the man?
Whichever pedagogy you subscribe to – the ‘man’ pretends to be someone else or the ‘man’ becomes someone else, there is a constant – ‘the man’ Therefore it stands to reason that drama colleges need to look after the individual with a holistic approach, in order to make them the best ‘actor’ possible.
Back in May I wrote this blog looking at The MTA’s pioneering approach to pastoral care and how we included as a matter of course Mental Health awareness: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/blog-annemarie-lewis-thomas-mental-health-education-starts-at-college/
There has been much research in recent years into links between Mental Health issues and specifically the performing arts. Sadly our industry only sat up and listened to this research when there was one young death too many reported in the media. When the iconic actor Robin Williams took his life his August, there was a huge out pouring of grief, but also for the first time in my memory, my Twitter feed and my FB Time Line was littered with people disclosing their own Mental Health struggles. An informal confirmation of the much touted statistic that 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of Mental Health issue within the course of a year.
My blog back then was prompted by the fact that Equity had finally acknowledged that there was an issue here that needed proper support. Yet it wasn’t until quite recently that they held a one day conference on this very subject. I’m assuming that the conference has spurred them, in collaboration with The Stage, Spotlight and BAPAM to undertake a more in depth survey on the topic.
While this is all well and good, and clearly I’m going to support anything that puts Mental Health Awareness in the Arts on the agenda, surely we need to be moving quicker? How many more unnecessary deaths will we have to hear about before decisive action is taken? The research is out there to support the fact that, as an industry, we are more susceptible.
This is my last blog of 2014, and so I want to make it count. Therefore I am calling for ALL drama colleges to follow our lead, and put a mental health professional at the heart of their faculties. I recently put this out there as a tweet, only to be engaged by one of the young Equity reps telling me that it was OK as BAPAM was available to everyone. This completely missed the point of course – it’s not enough to say that BAPAM is available to students. I’m a huge supporter of BAPAM, indeed I’ve used them myself…BUT we’re missing an essential piece of the jigsaw here. When people are in crises they can barely go to their own GP let alone a stranger in an organisation that they’re unlikely to have made any contact with up until the point of crises. When I said to the Equity rep that it was hard to access, I was practically given a map reference by way of explanation. Highlighting once again the ignorance around this issue. Emotional accessibility is a whole different ball game to getting off the tube at the right stop.
Very often with Mental Health issues the person in crises doesn’t even recognise the symptoms themselves, it is the people outside of their heads that tend to notice that they’re struggling way before they do, because they are so incredibly busy just functioning and presenting a ‘front’ to the world (and very often themselves).
Colleges need to educate their staff to look out for the warning signs (don’t assume that a disengaged student just can’t be bothered…maybe they’re ill, or the student ‘acting out’ in class – what’s really going on for them?).
Lots of colleges are quick to shout about the fact that they have this covered as they have a counsellor, but how many of these counsellors are a) Mental Health trained, and b) an everyday part of their student community? Sometimes going to the Doctors or making that appointment is just too hard. At The MTA we support the students to go to the doctors to get a more formal diagnoses and look at the range of treatments on offer, as well as offering them on going support with our counsellor. Due to the expertise of our counsellor and their qualifications in this field, we are able to converse directly with their GPs and even discuss a ‘care plan’ which takes into account the bizarre nature of our industry. Thereby giving our students a short cut to all sorts of solutions for their difficulties be it talking therapies or medication.
Since opening the college and seeing students hitting a crises, and then swiftly being treated and supported through it, and going on to have a healthier prognosis I really can’t shout about this enough. There is nothing as heart breaking than seeing one of your students completely hitting rock bottom…but there is equally nothing so satisfying than seeing them receiving treatment and bouncing back healthier than ever. We can then advise them about relapse prevention, and put measures in place to ensure that the help is always on hand should they need it in the future.
I’m not naïve, our pastoral package will no doubt fail one day. This is a complicated issue. However on that god forsaken day at least I will know that we tried everything to keep our students and staff safe.
The other day such is the culture at The MTA, one of my lot was telling me that they were going to see Angie (our counsellor), and when I inquired whether or not they were OK, I was reassured to find out that they were, but they were just going to pop along to say ‘hi’ just in case they needed the service in the future – they wanted to make sure that the contact had been made.
Don’t be misled by this – we don’t have wallowing students, in fact quite the opposite. My students are resilient and on the whole don’t have time to be self indulgent. However they are acutely aware of the years of rejection ahead of them, so they spend their time at college building up their emotional armour to protect themselves. I would argue that we have less ‘acting out’ than you would expect to find in a drama college (&staff and visitors to the college regularly support this suspicion). They’re not consumed with ‘being actors’, they’re just consumed with being the best version of themselves that they can possibly be using the resources that we offer them.
Of course all of this costs money, one to one counselling doesn’t come cheap – however given that as I’ve said before, we see the results in all areas of the course (and our employment statistics would support the fact that our students are securing so many more jobs than ‘normal’) then I see this resource as one of the best investments that I could make in my students as people… and I believe that healthy people go on to have sustained careers.
So I hereby call on all the other drama colleges and Drama UK to get behind this campaign of ours, so that no more lives are needlessly lost in 2015 and previously undiagnosed longstanding illnesses can get treated before they turn malignant. What an amazing thing that would be eh?
Merry Christmas and a Happy (&healthy) New Year to you all.
For more information on support available visitwww.counsellingforperformers.co.uk