Theatre as Therapy

Performing Arts Plays Critical Role in Improving Mental Health

A growing number of health care professionals are coming to the realisation that people struggling with mental health issues, as well as addictions, need not only be treated through conventional means, but also by integrating artistic expression into a more comprehensive treatment plan. An immersion into the world of performing arts certainly doesn’t substitute more traditional forms of care, but theatre that raises awareness of health-related issues through narrative, whilst also allowing for a degree of dialogue and discussion of the struggles being presented on stage can form an integral part of understanding and coming to terms with mental health challenges and may also help jumpstart the healing process among those who have been living in denial, or those who did not find the necessary network of support within their own family or immediate community.

Integrating Mental Health into Every Step of the Production Process

Addressing mental health through theatre is about much more than just producing a play, which happens to portray a character who struggles with depression, acute anxiety or schizophrenia. Both traditional health care professionals, as well as counsellors who incorporate art in the healing process often point out that people with mental health issues should not simply be passive member of the audience, but must be invited to take part in the production of the given play. As such, some theatre companies have brought people struggling with mental health issues onto their juries as full members, who help to determine which plays and what issues should make it onto the seasonal roster of productions being presented. Once the play goes live, each evening the production is followed up by a panel discussion, as  well as dialogue with the audience. Some theatre companies use a structure, which includes 40 minutes of live arts, followed by 40 minutes of discussion, where the panel includes family members of those struggling with mental health issues, as well as someone who has first-hand, personal experience in this, a representative of law enforcement and a medical professional. This form of theatre has a very explicit role to play in public education campaigns.

Hospitals Incorporate Theatre in Treatment

It’s not just theatre troupes that are building mental health themes and discussions into their productions, but also respected medical professionals who are urging hospitals that treat clients with psychological issues to accommodate performing arts in their facilities. A growing number of them have developed multi-functional spaces and amphitheatres, which allow patients to immerse themselves in music, drama and dance, as well as explore the world of meditation. By building the arts into recovery programmess and encouraging the open, artistic expression and exploration of these challenges, health care professionals and artists hope to take some of the still prevalent stigma away of mental health issues. The fact that only a third of all those who struggle with these disorders seek any type of professional help is an alarming statistic, but getting both those who suffer with these conditions, as well as their family, friends and community to speak more openly about a condition that impacts 25% of the British population and 10% of all children each year is essential.

Mental Health Issues More Prevalent Than One May Think

Out of every 100,000 Britons, 400 will cause themselves bodily harm each year, due to an untreated mental health issue. According to the Mental Health Foundation, Britain has the highest self-harm rate in all of Europe. Yet while more than 5,000 Britons commit suicide each year, heath care specialists are witnessing a more positive trend in recent years, with the suicide rate declining by 24% among those 65 years of age or older.

The rates within the younger population, however, remain high and suicide is considering to be among the leading causes of death of those under 35 year of age and the absolute most common cause of death of those in their teenage years. Art therapy, however, can play a major role in turning the tide and ensuring that society as a whole – including those impacted, as well as educators, health care professionals, family of patients and law enforcement officials – gain a better understanding of an area that in the past was often treated as a taboo topic.