We are now on the 4th week of the #time4change #mentalhealthcharter as launched by Mark Shenton in The Stage in July. If this initiative is news to you, please check out an earlier post which sets out how it came about: http://althomasmd.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/its-time4change.html
I remember from last year's fundraising at The MTA for our 'Big Move', as the week's go on, it gets harder and harder to campaign in an innovative way. I feel like I've said it in as many ways as I can now...I'm even boring myself BUT what makes this so different is that when I get that desire to call it a day, I'm reminded of the contents of the emails I was sent prior to the #time4change conference back in March. Emails listing some of the appalling ways that people with clear mental health difficulties, were treated as part of their 'training'. Remembering how one uneducated faculty member can actually, inadvertently do so much damage. Remembering that if Mental Health Education isn't at the core of a college, and therefore supported by the ruling establishment, students in crises can literally be tipped over the edge.
Just this week I was sent an email by somebody that had approached us for help quite some time ago now, someone who had gone through one of the 'top' accredited colleges, one of the colleges that has already told me that 'they're OK'....'their systems work', and yet this person (who of course could have been the exception) literally slipped through the pastoral net, and had found themselves for years out in the mental health wilderness, not knowing where to look for support. They contacted us because I 'go on' about the subject, so they thought that I could have signposted where they should go next. Thankfully in this case we did (signpost), the person was in a place ready to hear, and they're now being successfully treated and their life has changed.
Similarly lots of tweets getting RT'ed' this past week by students (past and present) of 'top' accredited colleges, asking their Principals to consider signing up to the #time4change #mentalhealthcharter. Several of them telling me that this initiative was overdue. Surely this implies that current Mental Health Policies, however well meaning, need improving?
So here's my big question of the week. . .WHY wouldn't you sign the charter? What have you got to lose? For agents and producers it costs them absolutely nothing. That's all they have to do is a file merge and add the Charter to their standard contracts or welcome packs. I mean that is literally 5 mins work (unless you're on my office computer which admittedly means that it would take 30 mins....it is most definitely coming up to a much needed trip to a Genius store). The cost to a theatre is minimal. You just have to locate, in your area, the nearest Mental Health crises intervention team, locate a Buddhist centre providing mindfulness and meditation...plus a couple more things, just to add to your welcome pack. So what's that? Getting an employee to spend 30 mins googling that information (hell...we've even offered to help them out locating these places if they really don't know where to start). The cost to a college? 1 - 2 full days of having a Mental Health Practitioner with you to deliver a speech to your students, explaining WellBeing and giving a Mental Health overview, and to give a training session(s) to your staff. That is it. Other than that it's the same as for everyone else - a file merge to add the #time4change #mentalhealthcharter Fact Sheet to the welcome packs.
Simple isn't it?
Inexpensive isn't it?
So WHY are we having such difficulty selling this simple concept?
This week saw the launch of The Stage, Spotlight UK, BAPAM and Equity initiative ArtsMind, prompted by a survey they did back in 2015 http://www.artsminds.co.uk/ launched by The Stage 5 days ago: https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2016/actor-suicides-prompt-launch-of-artsminds-mental-health-website/ Equity's Louise Granger had mentioned that this web portal would be launching this year back in March at our conference, and it's just brilliant that they've created a one stop 'hub' for performers to access as part of their mental health/well being tool kit. However when I was hashtag checking all things #time4change just a day after the launch of this website (a daily occurrence to ensure that I haven't missed anything important), I decided to hashtag check #artsmind and the amount or rather the lack of hashtags was shocking. This major initiative that had taken months to build, with 4 of our major industry heavy weights behind it, yet it could barely manage a presence for longer than a few days.
Again my question is WHY? WHY wasn't everyone taking care of 'everyone else' and pointing all creatives in that direction, so that webpage could be bookmarked 'in case of emergency'?
Then I was having a conversation with someone the other night who was asking me WHY I thought that people were reluctant to get involved...and it came to me. The stigma/fear is so great surrounding Mental Health, people are reluctant to engage in a process that might make them hold the mirror up to themselves. To engage in our initiative you would need to educate yourself, which might mean reflecting on old behaviours, or indeed there may be an acknowledgement of having a difficulty yourself that has never been addressed. The current consensus appears to be - if you're talking about it, you have it, and if you have it, I don't want to know. The stigma is alive and well. Heads are well and truly buried in the ground on this one.
I have consciously never divulged my own Mental Health status whilst campaigning - yet I received a positively vitriolic attack, presuming that I had started this campaign off due to 'my own issues'. Like I was attempting to create a problem in our industry for the hell of it?
So my big question of week 4 is WHY?
If you already have a robust Mental Health Policy in place you would naturally be fulfilling the terms of the Charter = RESULT. Sign up, and let's add your name and status to the campaign.
If you're concerned that it'll take too much time - see above. We're talking a maximum of 30 mins out of your life to fulfil the terms of the charter = RESULT. Sign up, and let's add your name and status to the campaign.
If you're worried about the costs - see above. Colleges would suffer the only financial penalty, but these are clearly costs that can be absorbed by the organisations in a bid to help and educated the young of our industry, and that after all is our job = RESULT. Sign up, and let's add your name and status to the campaign.
Finally my question is a bit more personal - to those people that I've contacted to attempt to get them interested in the initiative WHY have you ignored the email/tweet (or often both)? WHY wouldn't you just show a basic level of manners and say that for personal reasons you're not interested in this, or you think that it's nonsense or just a simple 'thanks but no thanks'? Every single time you've emailed/tweeted me, I've shown you the courtesy of an answer - WHY aren't you able to do the same. Trust me. . . I'm very busy too, but I always find time for manners.
So.....WHY wouldn't you sign the charter, and spread the word about ArtsMind while you're at it?
If this has made you interested in Charter - info@theMTA.co.uk putting #time4change as the subject.
PS...if you signed I could stop going on about it. Now WHY wouldn't you want that?