On World Mental Health Day, It's Time to Talk

'Dear Fellow Actors, I wanted to tell the truth…’

So begins a guest post from Laura Darrall – the actress behind the international #itaffectsme campaign - on The Honest Actors’ Blog. It’s an opening gambit that I like to think I could add to all of the content that goes out under the Honest Actors’ banner. The clue, I guess, is in the name.

As part of being at the helm of the project, I’ve been encouraging other performers to be honest about the realities of the profession for almost a year. As well as covering topics such as industry approaches to nudity, balancing parenthood with an acting career and how best to answer the question “are you in anything at the minute?”, I’ve been publishing guest articles in which actors have opened up about OCD, depression, and the stresses of caring for a parent with a disability. As I’d hoped, the blog is becoming a place for actors to start honest conversations on some very important issues.

I previously published an article from an actor who requested to remain anonymous. It was about depression that came about as a direct consequence of being bullied whilst working as a performer. It was raw and still very angry, and it began with a troubling assertion:

‘Being honest as a performer is foolhardy, and a rarity at best. I’d even go one further, and say it’s a path to career suicide.’

Reading the article in full, I understood where this was coming from, but I couldn’t help disagreeing. Being honest as a human being is an essential part of survival. Actors are no different. It's important to talk, and talk honestly, about the problems we all face.

A statistic commonly referred to in the media throughout the month of January, is that 1 in 4 British adults experience at least one mental disorder in a given year. By comparison, my own survey of over 500 actors - conducted via the Honest Actors’ site - has so far shown that only 33% of the actors polled are certain they have not suffered from mental disorders.

Jonathan Harden

‘Is there a psychological impact of being an actor?’ is a question I’ve regularly asked in the podcast and one which quite often requires the most teasing out. A confused look will fairly quickly turn to a ‘I don’t think so’. A few minutes later, we’ll be talking about the impact of repeated rejection, the inconsistency of employment, the financial instability, and what Dr Mark Seton called in his guest article, ‘Post Dramatic Stress’ - a range of actors’ experiences – from the shock/surprise of reacting as ‘the character’ to every day life and family stresses, to being traumatised or fatigued by the emotional and physical demands of a role.

One blog contributor, Christopher Tester, wrote an honest and brave account of his experience of mental illness. Diagnosed with clinical depression during his second year at drama school, he eventually requested to defer his final year of training and underwent a course of cognitive therapy. In his article, Chris admits that he still hesitates publicly admitting to this for fear that even a single casting director might immediately scrawl ‘DEPRESSIVE – DO NOT HIRE’ on his CV, seven years after the event.

Depression and mental illness are still dirty words, particularly in an industry that thrives on social perception. Actors, perhaps more than the general populace, are understandably reticent about being honest and open about mental health. It’s time to change that. Whatever we may feel, our careers are not worth more than our health, neither physical nor mental. This is one of those times when honesty is the best policy. Over time, we need to move together towards removing the stigma. Talking about it is the first step.

Being honest as a performer may well be a rarity, but I’d like to think it’s not - as that anonymous contributor suggested - the path to career suicide. Thankfully, things have improved a lot for him in the few months since he wrote and submitted the post. In fact, he got in touch again a few days after his article went out to say that talking honestly hadn’t been as cataclysmic as he had imagined.

‘Strangely, one friend has already got in touch and said she knew it was me. Perhaps I didn't cover my tracks too well, but it's a strange thing - part of it was about admitting these things aloud, even if not by name, and if friends know it's me... perhaps it's better they know. I just hope it resonates with some people out there.’

And so do I. If you’re interested in being part of the solution, you can start by joining in with Laura Darrall’s fantastic #itaffectsme campaign, if you haven’t already.

It’s time to talk.

Jonathan Harden was born in Belfast. Since moving to London, he has worked extensively in television and film, as well as in restaurants, bars and on building sites. Since 2015, he has been at the helm of The Honest Actors' Podcast – the UK’s #1 acting podcast - and its award-nominated blog.

Spotlight, along with The Stage, Equity and BAPAM, is one of the founders of resource hub ArtsMinds. If mental health issues affect you, get in touch with BAPAM and take a look at ArtsMinds.

@itaffectsme @MindCharity


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