Unions join forces to boost mental health awareness in performing arts
Equity is redoubling its efforts to address mental health in the performing arts, by teaming up with other unions and encouraging employers to bring the issue to the fore.
The efforts are being backed by MPs including Luciana Berger, who chaired a meeting of the Performers’ Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group on July 10, attended by performers, other entertainment unions, the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre.
In a blog for HuffPost to coincide with the session, Berger said: “We need new protections and new rights to be established. We value our arts and the contribution they make. We must value our artists too, and ensure no one’s mental health is affected by outdated and exploitative practices.”
Equity, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and the Musicians’ Union will now work with the parliamentary group to further raise the profile of mental health as an issue that must be addressed within performing arts workplaces.
The union has already begun hosting mental health and well-being drop-in sessions at the Actors Centre in London, as part of a drive to offer more support for performers.
The parliamentary meeting was also attended by employers, such as the West End’s Dominion Theatre, which has started running a programme of in-house well-being sessions for its workforce.
Among those speaking were actor Tanya Moodie, who said: “In the entertainment industry we are experts at veneer. By that, I mean there seems to be a premium placed on appearing successful when we are not working – for example, the advice I was given early in my career was to act and dress like I didn’t need the job no matter how broke I was and how often I’d been rejected – and being grateful when we are working. This includes never being ‘off’ due to sickness, exhaustion, childcare issues or injury.”
“Clearly we’re all here today because there is no easy answer. The best we can do is weave more stitching into the safety nets within our network in the hope of preventing more of our beloved colleagues from falling through the gaps,” she added.
Moodie also suggested there should be easy signposts for people needing immediate help, such as a link on Equity’s homepage to the mental health charity Mind.
Last month, a free helpline to provide mental health and well-being support was set up for theatre professionals. It can be accessed 24 hours a day by phone or email.
In 2016, a spate of suicides in the sector prompted the launch of ArtsMinds, a website aimed at supporting people in the industry suffering from mental health issues.