By asking one simple question, singing teachers can play a valuable role in efforts to tackle mental illness in the entertainment industry.
Did you know that musicians are three times more likely to experience anxiety or depression than the general population*? Read on to find out what can singing teachers do to help address this problem.
The statistics on mental health in the performing arts paint a bleak picture – but the good news is change is afoot. Thanks to the campaigning efforts of organisations such as the Musicians’ Union, Equity, and Help Musicians UK, there’s a growing awareness of the scale of the problem.
But these big guns aren’t the only ones fighting the good fight. Another organisation doing stand-out work in this field is Applause for thought (AFT), which provides lower-cost mental health training, support and education to all those working in the arts.
The driving force behind AFT, Raffaella Covino, recently appeared on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast. A West End performer herself, Raffaella understands the industry-specific factors that contribute to mental health problems in the arts, such as:
- The precarious and competitive nature of the business.
- Irregular working hours and demanding conditions.
- Fear of being stigmatised.
The role of singing teachers
While many of these factors are beyond a teacher’s control, there are ways to make a positive difference in the singing studio.
“When you’re a teacher, there can be a real focus on just the skill at hand,” Raffaella says. “A singing teacher might think ‘my role is to make them better at singing, to get them to reach that note or work on their break’.
“But so much of the voice is linked to confidence and how we feel. The more singing teachers can work on building self-esteem, the more they can nurture people. Taking a whole person approach to teaching is a good way to prepare students for the industry.”
Signs that a student could be struggling
“When you do mental health first aid training, you learn about the signs and symptoms to spot,” Raffaella says.
“But my general advice would be looking at changes in behaviour. If you’ve been working with a student for six months and all of a sudden you find them very reclusive, or quiet and withdrawn, or if you notice changes in their voice and they’re not able to do what they could six months ago, then it’s a good time to ask ‘how are you?’.”
Raffaella recommends asking this simple question – how are you? – not once, but twice.
“When you ask most people ‘how are you?’ the answer is usually ‘I’m good’ or ‘thank you, I’m ok’. But if you ask a second time, you tend to see this slight change. And what that does is it just leaves an offer on the table that you’re not asking out of politeness; you’re truly interested in how that person is doing.”
Will I overstep the mark?
Many teachers worry about being accused of prying or stepping outside their remit.
“The biggest misconception surrounding mental health is this fear that if we ask questions, we will offend or get it wrong,” Raffaella says. “Actually, asking the question is always better than not asking the question – that is a blanket rule and one that I like to live by.
“What stops us from having these difficult conversations is fear that we’re not going to know how to respond and fear that we’re not going to be able to help or fix. But we don’t need to help or fix the problem; all we need to do is listen with no judgment.”
Listen to the full interview with Raffaella here. She talks about her efforts working with producers to bring about change behind the scenes, the importance of self-care and where to access lower-cost training.
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* The ‘Can Music Make You Sick?’ study, Help Musicians UK.