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Tips for Your Mental Health and Happiness

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A recap from the Department of Theatre & Dance’s Mental Health Panel, March 2, 2020

four people seated, one holds a microphone and speaksPanelists: Dr. Sarah Kirk, director of the KU Psychological Clinic; Eric F. Avery, interdisciplinary artist, director and KU alum; and Katelynn Schultz, KU Theatre student and Student Assistant at KU ADA Resource Center for Equity and Accessibility. David Ruis Fisher, PhD Candidate, was moderator.

Organized with the intent of shining a light on the unique situation our student artists find themselves in (i.e. the delicate stew of performance and design demands, tech week, auditions, school, and personal life), the Department’s Mental Health Panel, held earlier this semester, now seems relevant in a different way. As we, a close-knit theatre and dance community, proceed through this pandemic together, the time is right to review what our panelists said.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the stressful situation is happening and know “you are doing the best you can in the moment.” You can’t go 100% all of the time. Know the show will go on and it is ok. 
  • Exercise clear communication up front, if possible, with professors and others
  • Take breaks, take walks, develop interests outside of what you have to or are paid to do.
  • Set boundaries and set a specific time to work on tasks.
  • People may give you tips or guidance on mental wellness, and some of these things won’t work for you. Listen to yourself and check in with yourself often.
  • Be aware. Environmental effects, misogyny, race or capitalism can all effect your mental health too.
  • Make mental health a number 1 priority.

“Avoidance feels like your friend in the short run, but it is not your friend in the long run,” said Dr. Sarah Kirk, director of KU Psychological Clinic. “Every individual is different, but it’s helpful to find small and large ways to cope.”

Additionally, Sarah’s message can be applied to students who find themselves repeatedly missing class because of mental health issues, feel ashamed they’ve let things slip, and then continue to avoid classes, their professors, and deadlines. It can become a cycle that’s hard to get out of.

Katelynn Schultz, KU Theatre major and Student Assistant at KU ADA Resource Center for Equity and Accessibility shared her personal struggle with balancing the demands of being a student artist. “Mental health is number one priority to me because it has to be, or the rest of my day, or possibly week, just falls apart.”

How to take stigma off mental health?

Sarah… “Welcome the topic, support colleague or student conversation on reducing stigma. The generation of today really care about this issue.”

Acceptance and openness is the key to reducing stigma.  Be willing to talk and support someone who is having any kind of struggle and also being willing to share how you feel and think about the importance of addressing mental health concerns. 

How does rejection play into theatre makers’ psyche?

four people seated, one is speaking into a microphone and the others are looking at him

Eric… Putting yourself out there a lot, as much as possible, and understand you’ll get something. I focus on giving energy to what I really want to do as an artist regardless of whether a job for me exists or not. Rejection does not serve a primary purpose in doing what I want to do. I don’t ever need a job more than I need my dignity.

Katelynn… Set boundaries, set a specific time to work on tasks. I compartmentalize my work, my life.

Sarah… Where do you even begin as theatre and dance student with mental health and rejection? This system is set up for you to face rejection, a lot. Your experiences are valid, but understand rejection is not about you personally. Seek validation from other experiences beyond auditions because inherently it will be invalidating to be rejected over and over again.

Professors, lecturers and GTAs should be empathetic and show an openness to discuss this, but caution is warranted. Professors are not mental health providers. Know your resources. Professors, connect students to the right resources. Additionally, Sarah recommends that professors take a look at their curriculum and ask “is what I’m doing triggering? Is it critical to the mission of my teaching? Am I only including this because it is the tradition?” If so, perhaps omit it.

Mental and physical health interplay, and so remember the basics:

  • Hydrate
  • Sleep
  • Eat right

Bottom line: You have to be a priority in your own life or else no one will make you a priority.

Special thanks to Catherine Johnson, Director of the ADA Resource Center, Human Resources Department, for organizing this panel geared toward helping student artists. She suggests checking out the following resources for help dealing with mental health issues.

Campus Mental Health Resources


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