The number of people contacting the counselling service of mental health support platform Industry Minds has doubled, while the Equity Benevolent Fund has experienced an "exponential" increase in requests
Mental health support services and financial hardship funds for people in the arts are experiencing “exponential” increases due to the Covid-19 crisis, with a reported rise in people suffering anxiety, depression and loneliness.
Equity’s Benevolent Fund – which gives out grants of up to £400 to members in need – has gone from supporting about 35 people in the first two months of the year to more than 1,000.
According to Equity’s assistant general secretary Matt Hood, there has been an “exponential growth” in the number of people the fund has helped.
The union recently pledged £1 million to the fund, and has so far given out about £250,000 of support.
The Theatrical Guild, which provides grants to those in need, estimates that it will spend about £600,000 on helping beneficiaries this year – roughly five times its usual annual spend. Meanwhile the Actors’ Children’s Trust, which provides grants to families in need, said it has paid out more than £50,000 in April alone and added 25 new families to its support system this month.
There has also been a reported rise in the number of people needing support with their mental health.
Counsellor Mary Burch, who runs sessions for Industry Minds, said the number of people contacting the service has doubled since the outset of the Covid-19 crisis. She cited the impact that loss of work was having on people’s identity and self-esteem, and said loneliness and anxiety were common issues.
Burch said: “Our identity is linked to our work. That’s a big thing with creatives, they go: ‘If I’m no longer an actor or a set designer, then who am I?’
“It’s triggering low self-esteem. A big part [of my work] is helping people see they’re a lot more than their job.”
Equity’s Louise Grainger told The Stage that calls to the union’s 24/7 mental health helpline have also increased since the Covid-19 lockdown began.
She said: “The two main [issues] are anxiety and depression, and when people already have mental health issues the lockdown is causing them extra complications.”
Equity also offers members mental health assessments and counselling sessions, provided by health charity the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine.
Psychotherapist Fiona Macbeth, who is currently working with BAPAM, said: “For people in the industry there is the added uncertainty because of the industry being currently on hold with no clear indication if and when it will return to normal.
“In my experience this is particularly difficult for performing arts students about to graduate but with no clear way to launch themselves into the industry, which is difficult enough at the best of times.”
Mental health group Talk runs one-to-one support sessions with the Actors Centre and a peer-to-peer support group, both of which have now gone online.
Co-founders Christian Edwards and Harry Long argued that the “total uncertainty” of the situation and financial worries were leading to increased mental health pressures.
The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre have also reported increased calls to their Theatre Helpline, which provides finance and well-being advice.
A spokeswoman said: “Calls have understandably increased in the current climate, with the majority relating to financial worries and government support. All call handlers have now received updated briefing information and training to take this into account.”
Psychotherapist Fiona Macbeth
“My top tip would be trying to structure each day as much as possible and timetabling ‘events’ to avoid numbing out and spacing out.”
Counsellor Mary Burch
“Recognising what we feel. We spend a lot of our lives pushing down emotions, and here’s an opportunity where we’re almost forced into reflection. It’s a wonderful time to reflect upon and maybe recognise ‘what am I feeling?’ and naming it.
“Self-compassion is a big part of that. You wouldn’t turn to a friend and say: ‘For goodness’ sake, you should just be grateful you’ve got a roof over your head.’ If you’re feeling sad, you’re feeling sad.”
Co-founders of Talk, Christian Edwards and Harry Long:
“Firstly, try to accept that some things are out of your control, and let them go. If you can’t find work at the moment, it’s not your fault. If you can’t get out of the house, then that’s okay.
“Secondly, don’t feel any pressure to achieve something with your time. If you want to just stay in bed and watch films, that is great. Everyone has different ways of dealing with lockdown, and you shouldn’t feel that you have to do the same as anyone else.
“Finally, just try to do things you enjoy. Watch funny films, read books you love, call friends, run, jog, drink gin, eat chocolate – whatever it is that you know makes you happy.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.