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Dear West End Producer: ‘Can performers talk openly about mental health problems without being seen as unreliable?’

West End Producer West End Producer. Photo: Matt Crockett
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If a theatre company or individual sees anyone who has a mental health illness as a risk, then you don’t want to be working for them anyway. In fact, no one should be working for them. They obviously have an intolerance and ignorance to an issue that is prevalent in the performing arts, and by shunning it or blacklisting it they are adding to the problem. If you ever experience this first-hand please report it to Equity, your agent, or someone you trust.

Luckily, most people in our business understand and support people with mental health illnesses. The number of performers and creatives suffering is significant. It’s easy to see why.

A performer has a life of ups and downs. When in work, an actor feels successful, when out of work, they can feel a failure. The rejection of auditions, the intense competition for agents, jobs can prove difficult, even down to things like being able to afford Spotlight, Equity, headshots, and rent. Not to mention the pressure performers feel about looking good. Actors face a constant battle with intense emotions on a daily basis – and to find moments of life that are stable, and not filled with ups and downs, can be difficult.

One important thing: never identity yourself as only an actor, and only being a “successful” person when you have an acting job. You are far more than an actor – you are a person, a brilliant individual, with so many skills to offer the world. Acting is just one of the wonderful things you do.

If you are asked to talk about your mental health, then you should feel safe to do so. It is a highly personal thing to admit: never feel pressured to admit or talk about anything until you feel comfortable.

However, if you think your mental health is getting in the way of work, or is affecting your everyday life, then let people know. If you have a good relationship with your agent, tell them. It will not affect you getting auditions, they will just be more understanding.

I don’t know any theatre company that asks about mental health before making job offers. If, however, during a job you find you are struggling, then approach someone you feel comfortable with in the company – the company stage manager is usually a good place to start. Acting companies and individuals that work in the arts are usually highly supportive, and will do all they can to help.

You should never be ashamed of problems you are having. Talking about them will help, so allow others to open up and support you. You’d be surprised, but most people are actually rather nice and want to help. I promise you will not be seen as a risk or unreliable, because you are neither of those things, dear.

Remember you are not alone. Search twitter for the hashtag #itaffectsme to see how open people are becoming about their experiences, and #time4change to see the brilliant work on mental health issues that Annemarie Lewis Thomas is doing at the Musical Theatre Academy, as well as ArtsMinds (artsminds.co.uk).

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

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