Equity launches new mental health support scheme

Equity has launched a groundbreaking support system for members dealing with mental health problems. This will include a new dedicated 24/7 mental health helpline, an individual assessment and up to six professional counselling sessions funded by the union available across the UK.

Research shows that mental health problems are higher for those working in the performing arts compared to the general population and Equity members know why.

The insecurity of trying to sustain a career in an ultra-competitive industry with the need to manage recalls, rejections and lack of responses. The stresses the lifestyle puts on relationships, with lots of time away from home and friends and family on different timetables. There is the pressure to be ‘on’ and delivering to the maximum all the time, which is only exacerbated if you have a public profile. Physical appearance is scrutinised, which can have a negative effect on body image. Plus, ‘The show must go on’ culture adds to the pressures on performance and can lead to introspection and isolation.

“That’s why it is so important that Equity has chosen to work with counsellors who are from the performing arts sector,” says Claire Cordeaux, director of the charity British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM), who is working with Equity in the new scheme (pictured above). “We have been supporting Equity members’ physical and mental health for decades and this new scheme will take advantage of our dedicated group of counsellors with knowledge of the particular problems faced by entertainment workers.”

Claire explains that BAPAM has three core purposes. “We are here to support those working in the performing arts to overcome their health problem and get back to the work they love as quickly as possible,” she says. “We also run schemes on improving health and preventing people getting ill, and finally we work on research in this area so we can continue to learn and improve.”

Equity’s new mental health support scheme is utilising BAPAM for clinical assessment and counselling and the company Health Assured to answer the 24/7 helpline. Claire has been impressed with the staff and systems put in place at Health Assured, which is headed up by Nicola Jagielski, the company’s Associate Director of Clinical Services. “I met with Nicola and I was really impressed with their set-up. I took a clinical psychologist colleague with me and Health Assured’s focus on patient care was front and centre. I feel confident that they will do a good job. What we have agreed with them is that they will take the initial call and, the point at which they think there should be clinical assessment because somebody might need counselling, they will direct the person on to us.”

This clinical assessment will be face-to-face where possible. “We have clinics all over the country,” says Claire, “but we can also do telephone assessments. Sometimes people are on tour or it suits them to select to have a call. We make sure people get an assessment sooner rather than later.” Some people won’t necessarily benefit from counselling and, in that case, BAPAM clinicians will refer them to the most appropriate care, which might be in the NHS or with a BAPAM-approved therapist.

Equity staff have also visited Health Assured, who are based in Manchester, to talk to the counsellors working on the helpline about the entertainment industry and the many pressures Equity members deal with. This information has been informed by the union’s previous work on setting up Artsminds (www.artsminds.co.uk). A survey for the site found that one in five of respondents had actively sought mental health help. Equity has provided mental health support through many initiatives over the years, but this new scheme is more ambitious in its scope and will be assessed for its effectiveness later this year.

Getting Help
To discuss your mental health please call our new 24/7 helpline support number below (have your Equity number to hand). To discover the range of services that BAPAM provides, please see its website. If you want help with bullying and harassment at work call our dedicated line. For any other workplace issue please contact Equity staff.

24/7 Equity mental health and well-being helpline: 0800 917 6470
Equity’s bullying and harassment line: 0207 670 0268
BAPAM www.bapam.org.uk
Contact Equity staff