Mental Health and the Performing Arts
Mental Health, it seems like more and more people are struggling with, the figures waxing with each year that passes. While there is no end to the list of people who would give their explanation as to why I am not going to bore you with speculation on causes. No, I want to talk about the things that may be done to manage it; dealing with mental health issues can feel like an insurmountable challenge, whether it be you or someone you care about who is affected.
I can never know the levels of worry a parent feels when reading all the statistics about kids and teens struggling with the health. That’s why I wanted to write this blog to try and help with that worry by illustrating how the performing arts can help with mental health.
While many situations, such as school and work, force us to spend extended periods of time amongst others, we are not necessarily being sociable: I know that I often shrink into myself more in those situations. Yet, in drama, when you’re acting, you are encouraged to actually interact with people. Even the introverts amongst us, myself included, need to get some interaction with other people to stay healthy but that only happens it’s a genuine interaction.
Now, I know how ironic talking about genuine human interaction in regard to acting is but hear me out. There are so many instances where you have to work with others, I mean really work together because it’s not like a school project where one of the team gets left to do it themselves. It’s this real, genuine teamwork that relies on genuine interaction that will benefit mental health. I won’t pretend to know all the science but, I am sure we all understand instinctively the need for a sense of community. Drama can give us that.
I know the title sounds a bit too much like a pop-psychology buzzword but please hear me out. What I mean is emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise your own emotions and those of others yet it is the former in particular that I would like to discuss.
When you act you often deal with emotions unless you’re playing, the stoic, Mr Spock. Now, while you might think the emotion displayed by an actor is nothing more than pretend, it very often comes from inside the actor.
Well, that introspective aspect of acting is another reason why drama is good for your mental health: drama is an opportunity to express emotions through roles and that can help develop an understanding of those emotions can help to control them. For example, if a child prone to angry outbursts playing a character who is also angry might help them when they need to act angry intentionally, they may think about the things that bother them. They may also learn ways to express that anger other than the way they have been doing again, which also helps. It is never good to let emotions fester, but it’s equally important to know how to express them.
Physical Exercise Benefits Mental Health
As well as the two performing arts specific benefits to mental health there is also one that it shares with sports, physical activity. Whilst you might not immediately associate the performing arts with exercise they certainly demand physical activity from the people performing, with this being especially true for actors playing particularly active roles and of course dancers.
Now, that psychical exertion is regarded by people far smarter than me to be a tonic that helps fight depression and anxiety, being because of chemicals released in the brain when exercising so I have read. Whilst I can speak for the cause I have to say personal experience tells me the effect is true.
The simplest benefit of the performing arts on the mental health of students is how it can bring them out of their shells. Now, I know that this might sound like I am repeating myself but, it needs to be said. The performing arts bring children and adults out of their comfort zones, in a good way; how many times has someone so shy that the thought of something like acting fills them with dread finds themselves becoming open.
So, many times parents have taken their kids to groups where they tell the teachers how quiet and reserved their child is only to be told when they pick them up again that they were a far different person to their parent’s description. Even the most reserved of us can be brought of their shells.
Taking all that in mind I hope you don’t think me wrong in saying that the performing arts are good for mental health. Don’t get me wrong I do not think it to be a cure, some kind of panacea for mental health. But, it can help build genuine human connections, it’s an opportunity to express and understand our emotions, helps us fight depression and anxiety, and brings people out of their shells. I hope you found this interesting.