Friday, 16 September 2016

Reactive not Proactive #time4change

Yup, another post about #time4change. . . but that's because it's REALLY important.

This week The Evening Standard wrote a great piece in support of the brilliant ArtsMind initiative set up by Equity, Spotlight, The Stage and BAPAM However the article seems to focus on the fact that the conditions of our self employed lifestyle and all the insecurities that that brings can almost 'create' a Mental illness.

The anonymous actress who bravely discusses her struggles with depression during drama school, might....just might, have had an underlying depression for years - but the expectations and pressures of drama school training exacerbated it, leading to a crises.

The article touches on the subject of self medicating, in this instance through alcohol, but what about the drug use, the sleeping around NOT because you're enjoying it (that's a whole different ball game(pun intended), and should be celebrated if that's your thing), but because you're looking for personal approval?

The article takes a rather back footed approach to the whole thing. Now let's be clear - any 'footed' approach is good. However there are so many other things going on. Is your depression reactive or chemical...or is it both? Why did you enter the arts in the first place? Do you already have symptoms that you just consider to be quirks of 'you'? What's your genetic loading regarding Mental Health?

What about if we took a front footed approach? What if we accept that Mental Health is a thing, and that we should be on our guard about it? What IF we could make our performers strong BEFORE they go out into the real world? What IF we could diagnose and treat Mental Illnesses BEFORE they became 'a thing'?
Actually all these things are possible.

I was in a meeting the other day, attempting, as ever to promote the #time4change Mental Health Charter. The debate started as to whether this was real, or whether people were simply jumping on the latest 'band wagon'?  Now admittedly some of the PD lot might be doing that. . . but even if they are. . . it's because that there's a bigger issue going on surely? Then I heard the most devastating and apt quote of all.  This person told me that at the moment it was "like a Tsunami of people coming through with mental health difficulties".  A Tsunami of people!

I have yet to speak to a college that hasn't confessed to being overwhelmed by the number of 'issues' that they are currently attempting to deal with. College counsellors are swamped by people needing to see them.  Why is this?

Well when you've upped your intake up from 40 to 120 a year, did you employ triple the number of counsellors? We have one counsellor for a max of 44 students, and she is booked up every week. Admittedly our Mental Health provision is rather more robust than the #time4change charter insists upon. Check it out here, however I'm constantly having to monitor it and check that it's doable. Especially with our college for life policy, which means that our ambassadors check in with her too. We have another mental health specialist on 'stand by' just incase we ever get that 'Tsunami'. Fortunately the way that it works at The MTA, the Tsunami is definitely there, but we manage to break it down throughout the year, making it just a strong torrent at the front.

I was asked again this week why other colleges aren't jumping on this initiative - and to tell the truth I'm not really sure. I think that some believe that they're doing everything that they can already, and therefore won't enter a discussion with us to see how they might be able to be more effective. When your students and graduates are literally begging you on social media to sign up, maybe you're not being as effective as you could be?

Some aren't joining because they believe it to be an initiative from The MTA - yet the charter is clearly an entity in itself now.  As I explained on twitter this week - someone has to start an initiative and in this instance it was us. Get past the politics (with a small 'p') and start thinking of your students.

One college told me that they don't have the funds to sign up? A college would need to buy in the services of a mental health specialist for a day to speak to the students, and to speak to the staff. Our consultant said that she'd donate her services to get this college signed up. The twitter conversation stopped. . . that college has still not signed up?

For those colleges that have directed me to the website of various organisations, which state their collective protocols etc. . . the question remains, are these intentions actually filtering down to the students? I would suggest that with so many agencies joining the initiative, the answer is no!

Signing the charter will pay you dividends in the long run - a happy company on tour, college statistics will improve, agents won't get called in the middle of the night due to some 'crises' or another. If you can't think of the short term gains for the individual, think of the long term gains for you.

The Tsunami is real - the question is now, where do we start dealing with it?
Please read #time4change then please email me at to find out how YOU can make a difference.

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