Mental Health for Performing Artists

When working within a space both focused on and charged with emotion, nurturing one’s mental and emotional wellness is key.

A career in the performing arts industry (live & recorded) can be demanding both mentally and physically—not to mention the outside stressors (such as cost of living and poor access to medical and psychiatric care) that artists face.

This industry as a creative space is not exempt from requiring a decolonized and trauma-sensitive approach to support and uplift mental health/psychological safety throughout rehearsal, tech and production. 

The role of the performer is uniquely demanding, for they are the artist that spins the gold and then risks in delivering it to the marketplace. We know that the mental, physical and economic toll of the last three years has impacted performers’ mental health greatly and that this has significantly affected resiliency in the theatrical profession.

This is especially relevant when considering the statistics which remind us that 1 in 5 adults are contending with one or more disabilities, many of which are invisible like neurodivergence or mental illness.

We cannot continue in defaulting to an antiquated way of doing things, a protocol built upon the “tough love” approach that has been so prevalent in casting rooms, rehearsals and in production. We need to be able (and willing) to apply a mental wellness approach and learn more about how to do so.

In a time of restoration and repair after a series of complex compounded traumas (including Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, climate change, Truth and Reconciliation—to name just a few), and in an ever evolving landscape of reparations that are in right relationship with the harm done, the need for a responsive path of care is clear.

So, how do we uplift the mental health needs of performing artists? We do this by following a trauma-informed approach, and doing so with awareness, education, and training.

With special care to relational communication and impact of language we can take a deeper dive into decolonizing through practicing and shifting our tools for processing, relationships, and communication. Communication matters. The approach, tone and language used can have a huge impact on performers, not only to decrease the stress and pressure that can greatly affect their mental health, but also to nourish and bolster their creative process. 

We need to investigate how these 6 Principles of a trauma-informed approach apply in Theatre:

  • Safety

  • Peer Support

  • Trustworthiness & Transparency 

  • Empowerment, Voice and Choice

  • Collaboration & Mutuality

  • Cultural, Historical & Gender Issues

Trauma-informed care in theater doesn’t mean therapy sessions or “yet another thing to add that takes away from rehearsal time”; it means laying a solid foundation, cultivating safer spaces which make mental health a priority—and not just on the productions that are deemed “serious/sensitive subject matter.”

It means a closer look at how stress contributes to communication and poor attachment styles when artists need a professional yet soft place to land for their mental wellness and capacity.  The world of the arts has been impacted greatly post pandemic and a much more trauma-sensitive approach to wellness and care is needed.

We must take an approach that is grounded in harm reduction and one that creates a more psychologically safe workplace, while being reminded that change within any system requires patience, practical application and compassion.

Stay tuned in 2024 for more professional offerings on “Cultivating Safer Creative Spaces” as well as a new workshop that will examine how your rehearsal, tech rehearsal & production can benefit from learning how to better apply trauma-informed principles through improved language and communication.

Read about my Coaching approach here.