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By Raffaella Covino

Back in December 2017, after four years working in the industry as an actress in London, the UK and internationally, I was diagnosed with two mental health disorders. This came as a huge shock to me as I had no prior history of mental health issues and couldn’t understand how I could go from feeling like the luckiest person in the world, taking a bow in front of 1000+ people, to crumbling at the thought of having to attend an audition, eat in public, get on a bus, or even leave my flat.

So, I’ll start by saying, if any of you reading this can relate to that experience in any way, please know, you are not alone.

After making the difficult decision in 2018 to take a year out of the industry so I could focus on my recovery. I never would have thought that 2019 would then see my healthy and happy return to the industry and be the year that Applause for thought (AFT) would launch and win three Industry Minds Awards.

AFT was born from my own personal experience with mental health issues. It was born from the struggles I saw strangers, friends and colleagues go through, and it was born from seeing and appreciating the challenges and potential mental health triggers we face on a daily basis while pursuing a career in the arts. And perhaps most importantly, it was born out of hope. The hope of recovery, and the hope that together we can break the stigma and provide an education surrounding mental health that can help prevent others from having to go through these experiences, whilst also showing them the tools to cope if they ever do. 

AFT provides free and low-cost mental health support, events, talks and courses to all those working in the arts and entertainment industry. We connect people to therapists, counsellors and coaches who offer discounted 121 sessions and who have experience working with those in the arts.

We also run workshops, events and live Q&As with myself, mental health experts and industry professionals on different themes surrounding mental health and well-being within the arts. And in 2020 have started facilitating Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA England) accredited Mental Health Awareness and Mental Health First Aid Courses at a reduced cost.

The Mental Health First Aid training is designed to give an in-depth understanding of mental health, different conditions and the factors that can affect well-being. You’ll develop practical skills to spot the triggers and signs of mental health issues and it also develops interpersonal skills such as active listening. These all come together to build confidence when reassuring someone in distress. This is invaluable in situations such as if someone was to have an anxiety or panic attack on set or backstage or if someone doesn’t feel they can come into work due to a personal issue.

If you or your establishment would like to learn more about these courses or the support we offer, please check our Instagram or Twitter accounts or you can drop us an email at  applauseforthought@outlook.com.

This is our mantra and hashtag at AFT. We believe that knowledge really is power when it comes to understanding and looking after our mental health. Learning how to non-judgementally label and challenge thoughts, feelings and triggers create a self-awareness that can empower us to gain control in places and situations where we believe we have none. It can also help us build the resilience that we very much need when riding the ever-changing wave that is our business.

How we cope with rejection and instability, how we manage anxiety, how we cope with challenges in our personal lives whilst working as a freelancer, and how we build long-lasting high self-esteem. These are the skills I wish we had all learned in school alongside Pythagoras’ theory and is the reason why I see the importance of accredited mental health training now.

This training and knowledge can not only help us spot the warning signs both in ourselves and others that we may be struggling, but it can help us breed compassion, mutual understanding and respect within our training establishments and workplaces. I believe this will make our industry a place where people feel appreciated, valued and able to thrive, not just survive.

So far, AFT’s qualified Mental Health First Aid Instructor has trained over 370 people in either their Mental Health Awareness or to gain a Mental Health First Aid Certificate. With four different courses now on offer, focusing on both adult and youth mental health, we hope to see this number grow and even more people receive this training in the future.

Spotlight have added a brilliant new ‘About me’ section to your profile and we encourage those who have qualified as Mental Health First Aiders to add it in there so prospective employers can see your qualification, especially as mental health should be at the forefront as we navigate our way out of the turbulent waters of 2020.

Raffaella began her professional vocational training at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts on the professional dance course. She then went on to graduate from the London School of Musical Theatre in 2013. Since then she has been in shows such as; The Sound of Music (International Tour), Hairspray (UK Tour), In the Heights (Southwark Playhouse & Kings Cross Theatre), RENT (UK Tour) On the Town (Regents Park Open Air Theatre), KING (The Hackney Empire), The National Theatre’s Peter Pan (Troubadour White City) and The Old Vic’s A Monster Calls (UK Tour.) On February 3rd 2019 Raffaella launched Applause for thought and now runs that alongside pursuing her acting career.

Headshot photographer: Robin Kent Photography

Hero image by Thought Catalog via Unsplash.