BAPAM has convened a Psychosocial Working Group to bring together clinicians including doctors, clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors, charities working with performing arts professionals to support mental health, and academics conducting key research.
The group provides a forum in which approaches to care and support can be discussed, and clinical leadership can be provided for developing and instantiating a service designed to support performing arts workers with issues related to vocation-related physical and mental health issues. We are using the NHS-approved evidence base produced by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), who review the published evidence for healthcare interventions from a clinical and a cost-effectiveness perspective, to map the services available to performing artists against the clinical evidence for best practice and identify gaps in those services.
The prevalence of mental health problems is considerably higher in the performing arts community than in the general population, and suicide rates are well above the national average. There is an acute awareness of the problems within the performing arts industry and many artists have been sharing their mental health experience in the context of their work.
The group has mapped many of the initiatives developed to support performers including Help Musicians UK’s Music Minds Matter helpline, Theatre Helpline, Music Support, which has a particular focus on addictions, Equity supported Wellbeing Drop-in sessions at the Actors Centre, Music & You, Music for Mental Wealth and BAPAM’s own free service, which provides clinical assessments for performers across the UK. In addition, there is a growing number of practitioners who have trained to work in this area, building on insights gained from previous careers in the arts industries, for example, the Music Industry Therapist Collective.
We are grateful to have had so many valuable insights from practitioners and agencies involved in this important work and together we’ve begun identifying what is available, what is missing and how we should work together to support a comprehensive approach to mental health services for performers.
Mental illness is not a straightforward condition. Some people will experience just one episode of mental ill-health in their lives. Of those who receive a brief intervention, half will recover and never have another one. Others, however, experience recurrent episodes and will continue to do so through their lives even though they may be well for significant periods of time. It is essential that performing arts professionals experiencing challenges to their mental health receive accurate diagnoses as quickly as possible to ensure they access the right care. Where brief interventions are indicated, these should be delivered by practitioners who have a track record of working with performing arts clients. Healthcare practitioners, however they are employed, need to be able to access professional support from mental health specialists to ensure they are making the right diagnoses and to refer on if necessary.
Discussions to date have identified many areas for action, but the immediate areas to take forward have been identified as follows:
- Development of guidance for the performing arts industry covering points of best practice for performers, care providers and all organisations commissioning care for performers
- Rapid access to clinical assessment to determine the best care pathway
- Provision of brief interventions tailored to the needs of performing artists, focusing on performance anxiety
- Access to mental health specialists (e.g. psychiatrists and clinical psychologists) for advice on the management of patients’ complex needs, for practitioners working outside the NHS
- An annual CPD event for psychosocial practitioners working in, and developing their career in performing arts health care
- A collective effort to support fundraising which aims to meet identified gaps for all practitioners