Alexa Terry gives her verdict on a mental health awareness course specifically designed for Arts professionals.

 

Imagine this: Billie Ball arrives at your studio for her singing lesson and bursts into tears. You offer her a tissue and note that this is the third session in which this has happened. Billie often displays behaviours associated with low self-esteem and has made some passing comments about school bullies. 

 

Later that afternoon, you welcome Ashley Adams for his first lesson, and he expresses feelings of anxiety which he relates to ongoing family stresses.

 

It can be tricky for singing teachers to know how to manage such situations, especially as the human within us may want to offer a tight hug and tell them that everything will be okay. So, what is the appropriate approach and what is within our professional remit?

 

Thankfully, we don’t have to figure all this out on our own. Two organisations that provide mental health education for Arts professionals – Applause for thought (AFT) and Mental Health First Aid England (MHFAE) – can help.

 

As I mainly work with younger singers, I enrolled on AFT’s Youth Half Day Mental Health Awareness course led by MHFAE’s Kate Baum, and I highly recommend that you do the same. 

 

I now have more tools to support my students and peers, something which feels particularly important as we are in a global health pandemic that has battered our industry.

 

What is Applause for thought? 

 

AFT offers affordable mental health education and support to those in the Arts. It was founded in 2019 by actress Raffaella Covino as a result of her own experiences with mental ill-health.

 

In 2020 AFT trained more than 400 people and delivered talks at Italia Conti, the London School of Musical Theatre and The BRIT School. 

 

Raffaella hopes AFT’s training will help participants spot the warning signs of mental ill-health and “breed compassion, mutual understanding and respect within our training establishments and workplaces”.

 

Read more about Raffaella’s mission in this article on casting website Spotlight.

 

What is Mental Health First Aid England, and who is Kate Baum? 

 

MHFAE has been delivering mental health training for over a decade. Its mission is to improve the country’s mental well-being and provide mental health first aid skills to one in ten of England’s population. Find out more at mhfaengland.org 

 

Kate Baum is a mental health first aid instructor for MHFAE. The former headteacher has a keen focus on supporting young people.

 

SHOUT is a free, confidential texting service available 24/7 for quick mental health support. Text SHOUT to 85258 or visit giveusashout.org

 

Who is the Youth Mental Health Awareness course for?

This course is for those who teach, support, live with or work with young people aged eight to 18.

 

The course covers:

 

• What mental health is and signs of poor mental well-being.

• The stigma associated with mental health and negative stereotypes (and how to challenge them). 

• Protective factors and risk factors impacting mental well-being.

•  The Mental Health Continuum.

• A brief discussion on self-harm and suicide.

• The causes of stress.

• A brief insight into the developing brain in youth.

• How to chat (including choosing a setting, effective listening, body language and asking open questions).

• Understanding professional help available.

• Safeguarding. 

• Attributes of recovery.

• Self care.

 

Prior to the programme, you will receive a detailed manual from MHFAE, which supports the course content and acts as an ongoing resource. 

 

The manual gives an insight into the different types of mental health illnesses (this is not touched upon in this particular course, unfortunately). It also provides a broad range of mental health resources, including websites, contact details and apps. 

 

How much does it cost? 

 

It costs £75. To ensure mental health awareness is accessible to all, there is the option to apply for funding or acquire a subsidised place.

 

What happens after the course? 

You will receive a certificate of attendance, and badges to post on your social media platforms and website.

 

Other courses 

• Adult Half Day Mental Health Awareness Course (25 places available per course. Price £75).

• Adult Mental Health First Aid Course (16 places available per course. Price £180). This is a course I am interested in doing, now! 

• Youth Mental Health First Aid Course (16 places available per course. Price £180).

 

‘How are you feeling at the moment? How long have you felt like? Is there anything I can do to help?’

 

To summarise…

The statistics are sobering: 75% of mental health issues develop by the age of 24, and 682 people aged between ten and 29 died by suicide in England and Wales in 2017.

‘Education is prevention’ is AFT’s motto, and what they and MHFAE are doing is important work. In obtaining better mental health awareness skills, singing teachers and other Arts professionals can contribute to the prevention of mental ill-health in ourselves and others.

After all, mental health awareness is particularly relevant for people working in the Arts where rejection, judgement and uncertainty are occupational hazards.

My verdict

Despite a year of being glued to a screen, I found the course refreshing (it was delivered through interactive discussion, media clips, group work, case studies and role-play).

Kate Baum’s passion for mental well-being and making mental health awareness accessible to all was apparent. She created a safe space for participants to share experiences, thoughts and ideas.

After completing the half-day course, I felt confident implementing a mental health check-in into my one-to-one lessons. This process is not intrusive and gives the singer a safe space to acknowledge their current mental state, and the opportunity to recognise ways they can support their mental health.

While it might not be appropriate to offer the likes of Billie Ball and Ashley Adams our advice or opinion, we can ask open questions, provide resources and relay empathy.

We can all play a part in changing attitudes surrounding mental health and help to bring those harrowing statistics down.

Count me in! Where can I sign up?

Join the conversation about mental health by visiting the BAST Trainers Facebook group and sharing your thoughts.

About Alexa Terry

Alexa TerryAlexa Terry is a vocal coach, singer and writer based in Hampshire. She initially trained in Musical Theatre obtaining a BA Honours Degree from Bath Spa University and has since performed as lead vocalist onboard Aida Cruises, and for new musical theatre projects in London’s West End. Alexa regularly reviews for BritishTheatre.com and studied with Book, Music and Lyrics (BML) as a Musical Theatre librettist.