In support of Mental Health Awareness Week, Ant Stones, our resident playwright explores the positive impact Drama can have on Mental Health.
In the build-up to our Young Company’s performance in April, we ran a masterclass, as a chance for professional actors to share some of their rehearsal tips and techniques. Dewi, our lovely Cook/Mouse from Alice in Wonderland was one of the actors taking part and she ran a great exercise. The group went through the contents of a bag and used the clues to piece together the character of the bag’s owner. In this case, that bag belonged to me.
What followed was plenty of jokes upon the discovery of my ‘old-man’ flat-cap, an individually wrapped biscuit, several doodles of a pink princess and a Lego Ant-Man. I’d told Dewi that I would ‘tart-up’ the bag to make it a little more exciting, but, in the end, I decided I didn’t need to add anything. It was ridiculous enough. However, I did remove something. The group never had a chance to take my medication out of the bag, because I’d left it downstairs on my desk.
I don’t usually hide my pills (Fluoxetine, for those of who know these things). I’m happy enough to answer questions about it, if it comes up naturally, but I don’t go out of my way to talk about it, either. So, why had I decided to hide it this time? Was it shame? Perhaps it was fear, or even guilt. I thought at the time that it wouldn’t be helpful, to raise any awkward questions in the session, but these other factors must have also come in to play.
Looking back at it, it strikes me that these reasons for removing the pills, for hiding my mental health, are exactly what I advise others not to give in to. GSC have supported countless people with a wide range of issues. We have worked with people who have stammers, disfigurements, dyslexia and not a word of English and we feel honoured to be able to do so. The beauty of drama is that you can find a way to involve anyone, including those with less obvious, ‘invisible issues’ like mental health, but we can support them so much better if we’re made aware of them.
Parents and teachers are constantly telling us that participants in our programmes become more confident and motivated in their everyday lives. When the beneficiaries of the High Sheriff Youth Awards joined our GSC Saturdays Club for their first term, after just 20 hours with us, their attendance had increased at school, they were more resilient and were working better with their peers. This blew me away. There was no clear link between our club and their school lives. There’s no obvious reason one should affect the other, but their growth was undeniable.
This month, we began With My Eyes, a new course of drama-therapy sessions for teenagers who have been excluded from school for mental health reasons, and their parents. We hope this will allow us to provide further support to our community and help us as we continue the fight to talk about mental health without stigma.
Drama breeds an aura of acceptance, bravery and honesty and its impact reaches far outside specific drama sessions. Now, I just need to make sure that my pills remain in the bag and treat them the same way I would my ‘old-man’ hat and emergency snacks.
Follow the #mentalhealthawarenessweek feed on Twitter
If you have questions about mental health visit our friends at OAKLEAF, the only mental health charity in Surrey working as a social enterprise.