Today’s post starts a series of Q&As from dancers regarding Mental Health issues for Ballet Dancers.
Mental Health Awareness Week UK
It is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK this week (May 8th -14th 2017) so I am addressing some questions that have been put to me by dancers.
Jeanette Kakareka, a dancer with English National Ballet, has a list of questions to me from her and other dancers on their mental health. If you have any questions relating to mental health issues, please send them to me and I will do my best to answer them for you.
Recognising mental health symptoms
Question from Jeanette: “One of my biggest challenges, and I I’m sure this goes for many others, was recognising my symptoms for what they were, a mental health issue. What sort of symptoms may point to a larger problem than your typical stress, ups and downs, or perfectionism?”
It is difficult to talk about individual symptoms, we are all unique and each symptom may manifest itself in a different way in each of us. In addition, everyone has their own level of resilience to issues which are causing difficulties. It is often the case that people around us recognise any changes in us more so than we do ourselves. So you may find that supportive friends and family are the ones who bring these matters to your attention.
You may find yourself wanting to be alone when you are normally gregarious. You may also be feeling tearful, tired or lethargic and irritable. Another common symptom is being short tempered with people who are close to you. You may feel fearful of something but you don’t know what the something is. You may may have lost your appetite or obsessively control your eating (the start of anorexia/bulimia). You could also become controlling in other aspects of your life. These are only a few of the symptoms that you may experience. As mentioned above, each one of us is unique and therefore the symptoms will manifest themselves in different ways. In addition to the above symptoms, there are other factors to take into consideration. Hormonal issues around puberty, adolescence and for females, the menstrual cycle.
Most importantly, symptoms are a manifestation of underlying issues and your body’s warning that you need to deal with them. Unfortunately, the worldwide medical profession, on the whole, only treat the symptoms, usually by medication, rather than dealing holistically with a patient to find out what is creating the symptoms.
Being a ‘rock’ in isolation and being ‘strong’ is sometimes detrimental to oneself as it saps energy from our own self-healing system. The British resolve of the ‘stiff upper lip’ doesn’t work at all, it only exacerbates the problem by keeping it inside of us, which is toxic to our mental and physical health. For you to ask for help when you recognise the symptoms, is in itself the first step to healing. For some who are normally resistant to showing signs of ‘weakness’, it’s the bravest step.
The stigma of psychological therapy
In the USA psychological therapies have been around since the first world war. It was recognised then that the returning troops needed psychological help. From this point psychological therapy became part of the way of life in the USA.
Whereas in the UK, the British resolve of, as I mentioned above, the ‘stiff upper lip’, created a mental health stigma. “I couldn’t talk to anyone about my personal issues”. “No one else will understand my problems”. “if I don’t think about my problems they’ll go away.” “Don’t talk about family issues outside of the family” etc.
Hopefully now with Mental Health Awareness Week and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry’s ‘Heads Together’, it will help those who have been suffering in silence to get help and talk to a professional therapist about their issues.
Here are some of the questions I will be answering in following posts:
Do you have any day-to-day simple calming techniques for dancers who feel overwhelmed?
Some young dancers unfortunately find themselves in unhealthy situations with coaches or teachers. Some may feel too attached to their school or coaches to be able to leave, but may actually feel bullied. What would you say to a young dancer in this kind of negative scenario?
For what benefits do you suggest dancers seek counselling from a therapist such as yourself, specialising in dancers’ mental health?
Please send me any questions regarding issues that you are struggling with, or tell others how you have overcome something in your life. You can ask to remain anonymous if you wish.