You don’t need to be broken to be an actor
When I was at drama school there was a toilet that was infamous for being the breakdown toilet. People would run out classes in floods of tears and you could be sure that they would have run up the stairs to the big toilet next to the library. I shed many a tear in that toilet in my first year and know many people who would have daily panic attacks in there.
We know that mental health stats in universities are off the charts, but in drama school, the stats are even crazier. I was speaking to a drama schools’ student services the other week and they said that in the last year they had more serious mental health incidents reported than they had students. Meaning that the stat isn’t 1 in 4, or 2 in 4, but 5 in 4. That doesn’t make sense, does it? The stats make it look like every single drama student is in a crisis, is at breaking point, drowning.
I’ve thought and prayed a lot about why there are so many drama students struggling with mental health and although I don’t have a conclusive answer to put in a short blog. Here are three reflections that I have:
1. You do not need to be broken to be a good actor. I've noticed that at times mental health issues are expected and even celebrated in drama schools. As if struggling helps you to portray characters better. This isn’t true. It is possible to go through drama school without a mental health struggle and go on to be a fantastic actor and it is possible to win the battle with your mind. You can get better. You can heal. And that is the goal, you do not need to stay struggling, help is available for you.
2. You have a choice about whether you want to share your personal life with your tutors. It isn’t necessary for your training. You can put emotional boundaries in place, it’s important that you do so. If you feel like you’re asked an inappropriate question you can choose not to answer it. Your tutors are there to train you as an actor, not to sort through your past and everything you’re struggling with. There are people that can help you with that in a safe, confidential environment. Your tutors are not there to be your mates or your counsellors and you’re not there to be theirs.
3. Getting out of the drama school bubble is so important. You lose perspective when you’re in that environment 24/7, having activities and places you can go and not talk about acting and the industry is vital. An easy way to find this is to get plugged into a local church. You’d be surprised how many other young people are going to churches near your drama school. You need a support system, you need family, you need people outside the industry.
Churches, let’s reach out to these students. Let’s make sure we have drama schools on our radar. They need Jesus’ love, comfort and counsel. He wants to use you to see those stats change. Let’s love our drama schools.
And if you are a student who feels like they're drowning. You are not alone, not just because there are other students sharing your experience. But because there is a God who knows you by name, he knows every anxious thought you have, and the depth of your sadness. He is in the business of mending broken hearts and he wants to set you free. His name is Jesus and he's extending a gentle hand to you today.