Let’s Talk About Mental Health: Fighting Stigma
Dealing with the stigma attached to mental illness is all about normalising and discussing the issues. Psychologist Carol Chapman gives her insight into the common concerns performers face, reminding us that we are not alone.
By Christina Care
…nearly 85% of respondents had worked within the past six months, going some way to bust the myth that people with mental health issues are unemployable. In fact, we all probably work with someone with a mental illness.
Mental health concerns still attract a lot of stigma, even in the arts where strong emotions are often viewed as an asset on the job, rather than a weakness. It can be very tough to decide whether to disclose information about mental health concerns, in an already competitive industry. Spotlight spoke to Carol Chapman, registered Psychologist and Performance Coach, about understanding the stigma and reminding those suffering that they are not alone.
There’s still a lot of stigma attached. Of course, it’s inevitable in a way because it’s such a competitive world, and the competitiveness filters down to every small level really, it’s not just auditions and castings. It’s competitive in lots and lots of ways. Only a few get the rewards and benefits of being able to work and there’s a certain amount of fear and anxiety attached to it because of the uncertainty.
What are the most common concerns that you hear from performers?
It depends on what stage you’re at, as it were. So early on, starting out, it’s those who don’t yet have an agent. How do I get myself going? How do I get work? A lot of practical things. Their career has not taken off yet. When they are qualified, it becomes, “What do I do now?” The big unstructured day, stretches ahead. So, motivation and practical concerns – how do I keep myself motivated? I’ve seen a few people lately who have just had a big break – when you find yourself on the ground now and it’s all over, it’s about picking yourself up and there’s a different view then because you’re known. How do you use it to your advantage in the best possible way? Or later on, when you’ve done a few things and you’re not necessarily known, it’s about keeping the motivation – to keep going out there and that sort of thing. We also have people who have had to take a break – have had an accident, or a life event occur, like having had a child – how do you manage that and keep yourself going? Then anything approaching retirement when people are worried that there aren’t any roles for them anymore.
What would you say are the common issues around lifestyle?
All those issues around lifestyle are massive, starting with how your friends and nearest and dearest live with you – you might be away from them a lot, you might be earning next to nothing, your hours may be antisocial. A lot of people really don’t understand, and a lot of actors go through a whole career with their family not really understanding at all.
It’s also who you are – many performers are very sensitive and easily hurt and it is a tough old world and you will get hurt, not just from being turned down. You have to learn to not take it personally if someone else gets the job – you have to develop coping mechanisms.
I’ve only ever seen one person who took on a role that took them into emotional territory that they weren’t prepared for. Most actors I see are aware of their emotional range, and wouldn’t go for it. But this young woman was inexperienced, and it resonated with all sorts of terrible things in her past. But that is relatively rare and most people know the dangers.
Is there anything else you think can affect performers specifically – things like ‘stage fright’?
Definitely. It’s important to deal with the big avoidance thing – people who actually stop doing various gigs, regain the mojo, because that will go if something that you used to love becomes something that is now full of terror. Why else would anybody be in this business if the bottom line wasn’t that they loved it? I normalise it, for people who think they’re the only one - I make sure they know: “It’s not just you”.
Fighting the stigma means opening up the forum for discussion on mental health – feeling supported enough to be honest and share experiences. If there are concerns you’re dealing with and want more information on, feel free to ask us via Twitter.
If you need urgent help, there are lots of ways to get help now. If you want to take advantage of a free consultation via BAPAM, give them a call on 020 7404 8444.