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Equity president shares experience of bullying in the arts and urges discussion of mental health

Maureen Beattie. Photo: David Jensen
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Equity president Maureen Beattie has revealed how she was bullied while working with a major theatre company, as she urged more conversation around mental health in the arts.

Beattie was speaking to The Stage to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.

She said the incident had taken place “back in the day” while working for a “big national company”.

“I was being horribly bullied by a couple of people in the company and I didn’t mention it for about six months. I believed what they told me and thought I must be doing something wrong,” she said.

Beattie revealed that the actions of the people involved had led her to believe she was “spoiling rehearsals” because of her “negative attitude”.

“It knocked me, and I thought I was being negative and unhelpful and people found my attitude all wrong. It was all based on me ruining the rehearsal,” she said, adding: “When I finally spoke to the director, I apologised for being so negative and she said: ‘Maureen, I have no idea what you are talking about.’ The way those two people got to me convinced me enough for me to sit before the director and tell her that.”

Beattie said the theatre professionals suffered “very particular kinds of vulnerability”. She added that body image and the pressures to look a certain way could affect people’s mental health.

“We used to talk about this as a very female thing, but it’s just as bad for guys now. It seems a step backwards but it’s something we have to deal with,” she said.

Beattie also talked about how daunting it can be for people touring with shows to live in unfamiliar environments, with people “you’ve never met in your life before”.

The Equity president also spoke about companies not giving feedback from auditions, which she said could impact on performers’ well-being.

She encouraged people to talk about their concerns and to share their anxieties, adding that often others will have experienced the same.

“We can’t have people taking their lives because of this. We can’t have it. We can’t have people not doing the jobs they love because of vulnerability,” she said.

The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre runs a free helpline to provide mental health and well-being support for theatre professionals. The number for the Theatre Helpline is 0800 915 4617, and the email address is advice@theatrehelpline.org.

More information about mental health support is available via ArtsMinds, a joint initiative between Equity, The Stage, the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine and Spotlight.

Website to provide mental health support for performers

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