Interview with Cathy Read and Scarlett Maltman, Hosts of Industry Minds: ‘This industry is supportive towards mental health but we can only access that support by talking about it and educate those emerging into the industry.’

Industry Minds is a new podcast hosted by two theatre actors that explores issues surrounding mental health within the performing arts industry. London Student’s Anthony Walker-Cook exchanged questions with both hosts to discuss the impetus for this honest, new and timely podcast.

AWC: Where did the idea for Industry Minds come from?
SM: A couple of months ago I was having a low point and struggling mentally. I found it difficult to accept that I was struggling. I felt that I couldn’t voice that I wasn’t ok and so turned to a podcast “Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place” as a last resort. I loved the podcast and it really did help me understand that what I was feeling was ok. However, the main reason I couldn’t connect with it was that because the people Fearne interviewed were people who are sat on a bundle of success and wealth at the peak of their careers. It got me thinking, why isn’t there a platform like this for all creatives at all points throughout their creative journey.
CR: Scarlett came up with the idea. She felt that there needed to be a platform for all creatives across any stage of their career to talk about mental health. Then she came to me and I helped make it happen.

Could you both provide some background information about yourselves?
CR:  I was born in Edinburgh and moved to England aged 18. I did a foundation course at PPA and then did the degree in Musical Theatre at ArtsEd.  I went to a school that was very academically inclined and discouraged me from pursuing a career in the performing arts. I initially wanted to be a musician but found Musical Theatre aged 14. I suffered with my mental health for a little bit as a teen (due to a horrible side effect of roaccutane!) and also suffered from depression from about 2012-2015.
SM: I’m a Scottish actress living in London. I was born and raised in Loch Lomond, Scotland and moved to the bright lights of London in 2016 to attend Italia Conti Theatre Arts after graduating The Dance School of Scotland. I come from a very creative background with both parents having been involved in the arts at some point. Close family members have suffered from mental health issues so I have always been surrounded by it, from grief to PTSD. I myself, have suffered from anxiety from a young age and have been exposed to other mental health issues since graduating drama school.

Might you explain the mantra for the podcast and what you hope it will achieve?
CR: We want our listeners to be able to relate to even a small part of what someone is saying. By interviewing a wide range of people at different stages of their career, we hope that we can help people to know that they’re not alone.
SM: I hope to open up the conversation.

A podcast seems a open and ideal way to discuss this issue: how much do you see conversation (private and public, as a podcast is) as being an integral mode of questioning?
Both: Conversation is the only way we can talk to each other. By talking about mental health both on the podcast and off, we hope the conversation will spread and be a part of many people’s daily routine.  The two of us sit with a beverage and chat, have a laugh and share stories of mental health experiences with our guests. Podcasts have created a wonderful platform so many people can tune into a conversation whenever they need it, they are part of the conversation despite not being present in the room. Therefore by doing a podcast, we are making ourselves accessible at all times to those who need to hear it.

What would you like to see Industry Minds develop in to in the coming months?
CR: We just want to reach as many people as possible. We hope that it encourages people in the industry to talk to each other and seek help if they need it. We’d love to visit colleges and talk about the importance of discussing and looking after your mental health.
SM: It’s not what I’d want industry minds to develop, it’s more the conversation I’d like to see develop in the next couple months. By opening the conversation then more people will be able to know about our podcast and it could help someone. We are hoping to put on some events in London in the New Year, this would be a free event for all creatives to come in have a good time, share experiences, we hope to have some counsellors there to chat free of charge to those who need it, performances, maybe even yoga?! So many ideas! I would also love to fundraise for some charities close to my heart, such as The Eilidh Brown Memorial Fund in the future.

What more needs to be done for those suffering from mental illness?
CR: As we’ve said before. Conversation is key. People need to know that they’re not alone and that they can seek help. Schools, universities, drama schools, work-places etc need to have systems in place so that people who are struggling with their mental health know where they can turn.
SM: I find this is a tricky question to answer as mental illness comes in all shapes, forms and severities. I suffer from anxiety, body dysmorphia, low self esteem and would definitely say I have had depressive episodes. To me, the way I feel isn’t an issue, it’s no more normal than me having a bad hair day – I wouldn’t go to the hairdressers to seek help for my frizzy mop, I’d deal with it and do the best I can with it. On the other hand, I have been surrounded by loved ones and know friends who have reached out to a professional to help them through their mental illness. At the moment, the main thing that needs to be done is understanding that it is normal human nature to suffer from mental health problems and to talk about it and celebrate being a normal human being!!!

Are you given any ‘training’ in coping with mental illness at drama school and, naturally, more needs to be done within the education sector?
CR: From my own personal experience, we were told that we could always go and talk to someone but there was definitely this feeling that if you did you’d be perceived as weak and not able to handle the course. I didn’t want anything to jeopardise how I was seen at college so I never asked for help. Even though it probably would have been there if I’d asked for it.
SM: Nope!! I was personally given nothing. Which is probably why I felt so alien and alone when I did begin to suffer. It needs to be talked about it in educational environments and there needs to be endless support for students to talk to someone should they need it. I had in-house physiotherapists at drama school who I could go see free of charge should I need help with an injury, but I would have loved to have some free counselling too. A lot needs to be done and it will happen in time.

Universities across the UK are struggling to cope with the increased demand to aide those students with mental health issues – what might you say to those friends who recognise a fellow student is struggling but feel they cannot offer any help?
Both: Any help is better than no help at all. If you recognise a friend is struggling then the best thing you can do is be a friend. Seek guidance from the universities online help facilities and government awareness schemes. These will point you in the right direction and if it’s suitable to the specific scenario then encourage your friend to seek professional help. The more we can change the public perception of mental health to mirror that of physical health the better. Having difficult periods of mental health throughout life is normal especially in high stress environments such as university. The best thing to do is have the matter of fact conversation as you would do when someone has a physical illness. However we do accept there is still work to do within wider society before this comes as second nature to us and we reach that point of no taboo.

What do you consider as the main recent positive developments to support those with mental health issues and what is the role of the theatre industry in influencing (and maybe for the positive changing) public attitudes towards mental health issues?
Both: Small changes are happening, and these small changes made a huge difference. Since interviewing people we have been informed that some drama schools are preparing their students on mental health, such as The MTA and Emil Dale Academy. We have also been informed of several productions supporting their cast and creatives by offering mental health support. However, more change needs to happen.
Mental health has been brought to light in the media due to the high increases of suicides among creatives. A reality show star took her life, apparently, due to social media trolling – why did it take someone ending their life to bring the dangers of social media to light? When Sheridan Smith was struggling due to personal issues, this was brought into the media as a huge story. This should not be the case.
This industry is supportive towards mental health but we can only access that support by talking about it and educate those emerging into the industry. We have a platform as creatives to reach those in various parts of the country and even globally through theatre and entertainment. It is our responsibility to educate through our creative platforms the importance of mental health.

Industry Minds is available as a fortnightly podcast and more information can be found here: 
Thanks to Cathy and Scarlett for their time! You can follow Industry Minds on Twitter at @IndustryMindsUK

Anthony Walker-Cook is a PhD candidate at UCL and is the Theatre editor for London Student. His interests include theatre adaptation, early modern drama, classical myths made modern and all things eighteenth century. For more information please contact: @AntWalker_Cook

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