Friday, 17 May 2019

MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK: 10 Tips for Artists to maintain their Mental Health


Mental Heath Awareness week was started by the Mental Heath Foundation, who are in their 70th year, in 2001. Combating issues such as stress, relationships, loneliness, altruism, sleep, alcohol and friendship with this years theme being body image. 

Here at Pocket we put some feelers out to some of our friends who responded with such bravery and pride. Working in this industry we call 'show business' is tough at the best of times, Mental Health Awareness week is our chance to educate people and help us understand one another. 

Our mission as people who are in and adore this industry is to support and help everyone in it. To promote Mental Health Awareness week we have been joined by a few of our friends who have written some wonderful guest posts for us. The more we speak about this, the better. 

Click here to view them all. 


Alex Spiridakis is a recent graduate of Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, having graduated in 2018. Alex, talking from the perceptive of a working acting, writes about her experiences in the industry and has formed her top 10 tips for Artists to maintain a mental health. 

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I consider myself to be a bit of an expert with mental health issues – I've had many years of experience. I’ve dealt with chronic anxiety and insomnia since early childhood. I was in therapy at 13 with depression. I had moved to a performing arts school and the change affected me so much, I basically only saw black for the first three months of attending. I lost around a stone in two weeks as I was unable to eat and was also throwing up every morning from fear. 


I have recently finished a 12-week course of therapy, where I was finally diagnosed with PTSD, for reasons I will not go into. Throw in some dealings (admittedly ongoing dealings) with disordered eating, physical and mental self-harm, crippling issues with self-worth and a phobia of death that rivals sleep each night, and you’ve got a pretty good record of my history with ‘mental health’. 

I am telling you this, not for sympathy – absolutely not – but so that you understand how bloody qualified I am to share some wisdom with you. 

Firstly, let's look at some brief facts about my circumstances. I am privileged; I live in a lovely area of London, my family are not rich, but we have everything we need. I have had an education, I have a degree, and I am happy to have found what I want to do with my life. Privilege does not repel mental health issues. 

Secondly, I am an actor. And I can confidently say that with my most recent struggles with my mental health, that fact has played a leading part, (pun absolutely intended). Being ‘a creative’, in my experience, DOES seem to make you a bit more susceptible to struggling with your mental health. I do not mean to generalise, and this certainly isn’t the rule. I’m also not a doctor or a research analyst so I don’t know if this is even true, but from my own and from acquaintances experience, being creatively inclined apparently makes you more ‘emotional’. 

This shouldn’t come as a shock; we need to be emotional to create art that matters and that in turn makes our audience feel something. So, we as creatives NEED to take care of ourselves, for our works sake, as well as our happiness. 

I have put together a list of my TOP TEN TIPS TO AVOIDING A MENTAL BREAKDOWN DUE TO PAIN OF BEING AN ARTIST (SPECIFICALLY ACTORS AS THAT’S MY FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE AND I DON’T CLAIM TO KNOW WHATS GOING ON FOR OTHER ARTISTS, YOU MIGHT THINK THIS IS BALONEY) 

1. Shower every day. 

This might seem obvious, and for some you may think its gross that some don’t, but when I am having a really bad day, the hardest thing to do is have a wash. But wash we must! You smell nice, you’re ready for anything (because now you’re dressed), the day has started, and most importantly, you’ve done something. Which on a down day is incredible! Congratulate yourself on doing a hard thing, and DON’T put yourself down saying ‘its only a shower’. It was difficult and you defeated it. Well done. Which brings me onto my next point... 

2. Congratulate yourself on EVERYTHING you achieve. 


Especially if it has nothing to do with Acting/*insert appropriate creative art form here*. When I feel particularly pointless and useless, I write down all the things I’ve done that day, from, ‘made myself a healthy lunch’, to ‘hoovered the stairs’. If the list is long, woo, look how well you did! If its short by the time your day ends, that was the amount your body and mind could do today, you did it, and therefore, there is no failure there. 


3. DO NOT PLACE YOUR HAPPINESS AND WORTH ON WHETHER YOU ARE ACTING/IN CREATIVE WORK. YOU WILL NEVER BE HAPPY.

For the ‘average’ actor, we work, what, 10% of the time? Would you ever be okay with someone being happy only ten percent of the time? Obviously not. That is ludicrous. You have to find other things that fulfil you. It will take time to rekindle these ‘external’ joys, especially if you’re recently out of the ‘drama school bubble’, but it's so worth it if you want to feel joy, or even just normal between jobs and auditions. 


4. Similarly, make your money job something that doesn’t make you want to gouge your brain out. 

In fact, try and make it something that’s not just about earning money! Because, again, if you’re like me and have not been so lucky on the ol’ acting front, you will be working this job far more than you’d have anticipated. And you want it to be something you actually like. I just recently quit my front of house job, at which I eventually travelled to hysterically crying every day because of how much I hated it. I made some great friends there, and by all means, if it works for you then that’s amazing but quitting and finding a job that makes me feel good about myself, has helped tremendously. 

5. Make peace with the concept of ‘giving up’, because once it doesn’t terrify you anymore, its power to ruin your day is gone. 


Honestly, the idea of giving up makes me want to cry and be sick all at once. I have been training for this my whole life. It’s become my identity. Everything I have ever done has been leading towards this moment, and the fact that I am ‘failing’ (not getting work) has made me feel like I don’t deserve to live anymore. And I see my life as a stretch of constant rejection and unemployment, and it’s terrifying and unfair, and I feel like I can’t bear to live like this forever! Then I remember, I can just leave. Life’s too short. You haven’t failed if you do. If failure is leaving behind something that is making you this unhappy, then surely failing is a very brave and sensible thing. There are wonderful things in life other than your career. Once I accepted that ‘quitting’ was an option for the future that I shouldn’t be ashamed of, my outlook became so much lighter. I can keep going, but on my terms. 


6. DON’T compare yourself to others. 

They are not you. You are the only person you should be worried about. They booked that advert because they were right for it, not because you’re shit. 


7. DO compare yourself to others. 

A contradiction, aye, but useful. You’re all in the same boat. Probably 70% of your year (I’m speaking specifically of recent grads here) haven’t worked, just like you haven’t. You’re not alone. Also, little tip within a tip; who’s that person you’re jealous of? Who you’re always comparing yourself to? Identify WHY you’re jealous, and if its not looks and money, or superficial nonsense like that, then work on yourself! Learn the same instrument, or a new skill! Its their ‘abilities’ you’re craving, not them. 


8. Surround yourself with people who understand the situation. 

If you have a partner, don’t accept the garbage type human I settled for who made me feel bad and embarrassed about my mental health, and even said those famous words “Can’t you just try a bit harder?”. Seriously, who still doesn’t understand how this works? My lovely boyfriend now is as understanding as a midwife and has never ONCE shamed me for my irrational fears that keep me, and him up in the night. Also, and almost most importantly, sit your parents down after the 47th time they’ve asked when you will know whether you got the part and explain to them THAT YOU WILL NEVER EVER KNOW WHEN YOU’LL KNOW IF YOU GOT THE PART. Once they understand, it will be easier. 


9. Be happy for your friends. 

Not just in the supportive way, but be happy that good, talented people are being employed. That is only a good thing. That’s the industry you want to be a part of. 


10. Enjoy the unexpected. 


(I am addressing the younger generation of artists with this point, although it’s probably something we should all give time to). I am constantly worrying about the future; whether I will be able to afford to have children, or go on holiday every year, or own property or any of that ‘life’ stuff that feels so important. But the truth is, we will never be in this position again. Once we have the house and the family, (if this is your plan), this bizarre freedom of zero-hour jobs and takeaway for one, will be a distant memory. So, enjoy not knowing what’s coming next. Enjoy making poor choices with your pay check that only has consequences for you and not an entire family. This is SO EXCITING. We are part of the greatest industry in the world. We get to make people feel life better! Don’t ruin it by spending your days worrying about a life you don’t even live yet.  


Bonus Point – GO TO THERAPY. TELL PEOPLE YOU ARE GOING TO THERAPY. NORMALISE THERAPY. Yeah, it’s a real ball ache trying to get access to NHS mental health care, but its free and that’s amazing. If you aren’t strong enough to deal with the back and forth of trying to get seen, please, tell someone supportive that you need help, and they can support you through the pain of getting an appointment. But you will and it helps. Trust me. I have A LOT of experience. 

I shall leave you with this. I reached the lowest point in my life a few months ago, and it was the thought of ending my life, and how easily it came to me, that made me realise I needed help. There was a tiny voice of reason that said, ‘this isn’t right’, and I listened. And with therapy and habit change, and honestly, incredibly hard work, I can now say I’m doing quite well. And that’s because I have trained my mind to not take this industry so seriously. To not make it the most important part of my life. I am not saying that being an actor is WHY I suffer with my mental health, but it really doesn’t help. Every time you feel depressed and like you are ‘failing’ here, remember; this is not normal. It is not normal for a job application to expect so much of you, physically and emotionally, and it is not normal to get so little back. It is not normal to work for free. It’s not normal to live your life in a state of constant rejection. So well done. You are doing so well under these totally abnormal circumstances.


Written by Alex Spiridakis 
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