Mind Yourself brought together staff, students and patient educators from the School of Medical Education at King’s to develop a more positive and open attitude to mental health through comedy and spoken-word performance.
Mental health took centre stage at King’s as comedians, medical students, staff, and patient educators – actors who use personal health problems as a shared learning experience for students – came together to help inspire a more positive and open attitude to medical students’ mental health needs through cabaret-style comedy and spoken-word performances.
The pilot project, Mind Yourself, formed part of Arts-based Learning for the Health Professions. The programme, supported by the university’s Culture team, invites King’s staff and students to work with artists and cultural partners to develop a deeper understanding of their subject, while enhancing their personal wellbeing.
Medical students are under tremendous pressure to succeed academically and professionally, and many experience mental health issues during their studies. Numerous articles from the Student BMJ, or British Medical Journal, and a report from the General Medical Council identifies that a combination of stigma, fear and misunderstanding often prevents health students from accessing the counselling and wellbeing services provided by their university. In parallel, a lively culture of humour exists in medical schools, with staff and student reviews a distinctive feature of the social calendar.
Mind Yourself aimed to harness this culture to encourage students to talk about mental health and access vital support provided on campus as part of King’s overarching Student Mental Health Plan.
A series of creative writing and performance workshops hosted by professional comedian and mental health campaigner John Ryan brought together students from King’s Health Faculties to develop a performance piece based on their personal experiences and anxieties.
The workshops inspired King’s students and staff to take to the stage to perform stand-up comedy, poetry, dramatic dialogue and musical comedy alongside four professional comedians and a patient educator.
Two cabaret-style events were held on Guy’s Campus for staff and students, and their friends and family. As compere, John Ryan used humour to draw audiences into frank, but often very funny, conversations about mental health, and the need to talk to and look after each other. Speaking about the events, John said: ‘Seeing performers with lived experiences talking about themselves was uplifting. Watching them deal with their anxieties and go out in front of a live audience was inspirational.’
I’ve been thinking about why we feel awkward about talking about mental health and sharing some of the absurd vicious circles we can get into such as being so anxious about talking about your anxiety that you’re unable to speak. We often start to see the problem instead of the person and as a result feel unable to relate to them. Hopefully a few laughs can help.
My work involves me sharing with many people the journey I have had with Schizophrenia. But Mind Yourself was different. It wasn’t just about me sharing my story; it was sharing it with the medium of poetry, a medium very personal and private to me... Standing there with my colleagues who shared their stories and thoughts bravely in performance art form, incredible stories and thoughts, made me feel ... honoured, privileged, grateful to stand with them. Mind Yourself was an awesome experience, created by awesome people. It showed me I am not alone with mental health issues, that none of us should be alone with them. We need to look out for others and look out for ourselves.
Dr Elaine Gill, Head of Clinical Communications, School of Medical Education
John Ryan, Comedian and Mental Health Campaigner
Natasha Donovan, patient educator and comedian