Theatre and Mental Health

If you or someone you know is in distress do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline. This number in the USA is 1-800-273-8255, If you are outside the USA here are some international hotlines. If your country isn’t listed a quick Google search should turn up something. Additionally there are hotlines and resources for eating disorders, abuse, general depression and anxiety, and most other major issues. Not just suicide. Do not hesitate to ask and find a resource if you or someone else needs help.

Henri Tomic

Mental health has become an incredibly important discussion topic; there is almost no topic that is discussed in the news and online more frequently - other than maybe Trump and Brexit, of course.
Even though well-being and self-care have been a part of human life for centuries, it's almost like mindfulness, Eastern medicine and a new generation of influencers have made it trendy to care about suicide prevention and your mental health.
And in fact, inspirational quotes and raising awareness can really save lives. Nevertheless, there is another type of entertainment that had been doing exactly that for quite a while - the theatre.
Ever since we started producing plays, the mental state of the characters was of utmost importance to the plot, whether you look back to Shakespeare, or even farther back, all the way to Greek theatre, the challenge for the hero was to keep his sanity, with all the dramatic things happening around him. Depending on the type of play or show, he either succeeds or surrenders to his environment. Therefore, it is no wonder that almost any show can provide inspiration and give some energy and hope to its audience. 
We all go through tough times sometimes and are the heroes in our own stories, so why not utilizing our passion to prevent or cure mental illness?
Here are some ways in which we can use different ways of the theatre to work on our mental health: 

1. Dance: Swedish mental health professionals studied more than 100 teenage girls who were struggling with issues like depression and anxiety. Half of the girls were attending weekly dance classes, while the other half weren’t. The results indicated that the girls who took the dance classes had improved mental health and reported a boost in their mood. These positive effects lasted up to eight months after the dance classes ended. It could be concluded that dance might result in a very positive experience for participants and could potentially contribute to sustained new healthy habits. Apart from that, difference dance styles will have different other factors influencing one's health: 
- Almost any dance style trains the dancer's muscle strength and comes with a lot of movement. Both have shown in studies to be even more productive than most antidepressants. 
- Individual Dance styles (Jazz, Ballet, etc.) work a lot on your posture. Improving your posture is also known as power posing and can induce positive and healthy thoughts. 
- Music is one of the most powerful tools to express and live through emotions.
- Most dance styles benefit from collaboration. Interacting with others and a feeling of belonging can help you out of almost any crises and improve anxiety and depression.




2. Singing: A University of East Anglia study of singers involved in free weekly workshops in Norfolk found benefits to mood and social skills. It also had a positive effect in preventing relapses in clinically depressed patients. 
Breathing techniques are at the heart of most psychological treatments and are equally important in singing techniques. 
On top of that being able to improve one's voice, reaching and hitting more notes, and making music without any tools creates a feeling of a high self-efficacy, which is closely related to maintaining or gaining a stable mental health.

3. Acting/Drama therapy: "Under the guise of play and pretend, we can - for once - act in new ways. The bit of distance from real life afforded by drama enables us to gain perspective on our real-life roles and patterns and actions and to experiment actively with alternatives. ", says Renee Emunah, PhD, RDT/BCT the Director of the Drama Therapy Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Stepping in somebody else's shoes allows you to leave behind your own problems and worries and also trains -similarly to singing - your sense of self-efficacy, which also gives you back control over your emotional regulation and mental health. Robert Landy, PhD, RDT/BCT, Founding Director of the Drama Therapy Program at New York University goes even further and states: "Unlike talk therapy, drama therapy gets there really fast. Role-playing -acting out issues and problems - is more effective than talking." Collaboration and getting in contact with others is at the core of drama therapy and has a similar effect to other gestalt or art therapies.

4. Watching theatre: Most mental illnesses work like a down-hill spiral, in order to move back up action and activity is required. However, activity requires motivation and inspiration, which is often hard to find. As all of you probably know, Musicals, Plays or even just Soundtracks can make you feel a lot better and inspire you to take your own life back into your own hands. This can often times be the spark to trigger an upwards movement, rather than a downwards one.
On top of that, the theatre forms a community in which anyone is welcomed, and one finds people to talk to even if it is just through social media. Having a social network around you makes most things a lot more endurable.  

With that, which other side effects of our all passion have you noticed? Have you ever been struggling and has the theatre helped you? Let me know in the comment section below. 

If you are struggling right now, I urge you to reach out for help, and in emergencies, call your local suicide prevention hotline. Keep moving on; we're all in this together!