For some, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week. For others, it can feel like Mental Health Awareness Week every week. It’s long been said that creativity and depression go hand in hand. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s fair to say that performance and anxiety are certainly bedfellows.
As performers, we can often find ourselves focusing on negatives: bad reviews, a miserable face in the crowd, an audition we didn’t get or a cast member we don’t get on with.
We could have hundreds of nice comments about a performance, loads of happy faces in the audience, a job and the joy of working with people we consider friends, but rather than focus on that, we will often see the glass as half-empty. It’s okay to do that, by the way. You’re not weird or manic, you’re just human.
Mental health is a lot like body health – it’s all about balance. But like anyone who’s ordered a chicken salad and a pudding knows, balance can be hard. I sometimes feel like a walking contradiction. Many nights I’m a stand-up comedian on stage making hundreds of people laugh. I put myself forward for TV and theatre shows I know thousands, if not millions, of people will watch – and yet, sometimes I look in the mirror and say to myself: “Who the hell do you think you are and what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
I’ve really struggled with anxiety in the past. I’ve experienced depression and even stage fright. I’ve felt like a fraud, an imposter even, and that at any moment someone will say: “Right pal, you’ve had your moment, now get back to that warehouse job you should’ve been doing all this time.”
And some days, I feel really sad – for no reason whatsoever – and I can’t just ‘cheer up’, or ‘man up’ or whatever stupid phrases people say.
Maybe it’s the rush of endorphins and adrenaline blasting across our performing brains every night that then leads to a crash every so often – a comedown to keep us sane in the long run.
A lot of men still don’t feel they can open up. We’ll go and let the doctor have a feel of our balls, but for some reason we won’t go in for a life-saving chat
You’ll see one statistic a lot this week: the biggest killer in men under 55 is suicide. A lot of men still don’t feel they can open up, whether to a professional, or even a friend or partner. We’ll go and let the doctor have a feel of our balls, but for some reason we won’t go in for a chat. A life-saving chat.
When I was at my lowest, someone gave me some advice. I was so low it felt I couldn’t do my job any more, that I’d let my children down and couldn’t even look myself in the mirror. Someone said to me: “Just because you’re struggling, doesn’t mean you’re failing.”
Life isn’t supposed to be easy – certainly in this game – and I do think anything worthwhile is going to be hard. It’s also all right to feel sad some days and doesn’t mean you’re mentally ill. But if those sad days are outweighing the happy days, then you need to talk to someone. You’d be surprised how many people in your life are ready to listen.
Jason Manford is a comedian, actor and writer. He recently hosted the Olivier Awards for the second time. He is currently filming Scarborough a new comedy for BBC1. In October this year he will star in the UK tour of the comedy musical Curtains
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