from our artistic director: marking mental health awareness month at bell square

October is mental health awareness month at Bell Square. We have two very different shows that look at issues affecting our mental health and encouraging us to reflect on the things that influence our wellbeing.

World Mental Health Day is celebrated every year on 10 October and aims to encourage education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. Many activities take place across the world throughout October.

Last year, Company Chameleon performed their show, Witness This, at Bell Square. It told the story of the choreographer’s diagnosis of bipolar, his recovery and the effects of his illness on those close to him in a viscerally moving dance performance.

Mental health problems can affect anyone at any time so it’s very likely that it will affect each of us directly or someone close to us. Maybe it’s not surprising that Witness This drew such a phenomenal response from the Bell Square audience last year - and many, many people asked us to do more events around mental health.

So this October, we have a large, spectacular show about insomnia and its effect on our wellbeing, and another show which is small, intimate and considers the mental health of the young people in our community. We also have two open, public talks and discussions, and a series of workshops with young people in Hounslow.

Insomnio by Teatro do Mar

The NHS describes insomnia as ‘difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning’. Almost everyone experiences insomnia from time to time, maybe for just a few days or weeks, but the NHS says ‘it’s a common problem thought to regularly affect around 1 in 3 people in the UK’.

Teatro do Mar: Insomnio

Teatro do Mar: Insomnio

It’s widely acknowledged that most adults need 7-8 hours sleep a night. But the Mental Health Foundation says that, ‘with increasingly busy lives, it’s estimated that we now sleep around 90 minutes less each night than we did in the 1920s’ and that ‘it’s obvious that many people are now functioning in a permanently sleep-deprived state’.

Probably all of us have had nights tossing and turning and felt tired, irritable and out of sorts the next day. But research shows that the long term effects of sleep deprivation are much more serious and present significant risks to our emotional wellbeing, our mental and physical health.

On 12 October, Teatro do Mar visit Bell Square for the first time. The company was founded over 30 years ago in Sines, in Portugal, and are well-established and well-respected throughout Europe.

Their latest show, Insomnio, looks at the rhythm of contemporary life – fast, noisy and immediate. We absorb the ever-increasing amounts of information thrown at us, and have less and less hours of sleep to process it all. Dreams allow us to retain the experiences that have future meaning for us. If we don’t sleep and dream enough, are we creating a culture of forgetting what is important?

This large-scale show with theatre, acrobatics, music and video projection, deals with insomnia, human fragility, forgetting and remembering.

Unkindest Cut by Sadhana Dance

Our second show in October is Unkindest Cut. Sadhana Dance perform in a large shipping container and will take up residence at Bell Square from Wednesday 23 – Saturday 26 October. Watching the performance inside the container is an intimate experience and totally different from Insomnio. With this show, there are several performances each day for a smaller audience.

Unkindest Cut is about the mental health and wellbeing of the young people in our community. According to MQ – Transforming Mental Health Through Research, 1 in 10 children and young people have mental health problems, and 70% of those children and young people have not had appropriate help.

The title of the show, Unkindest Cut, refers both to damaging cuts in government spending and to self-harm. The company notes that cases of self-harm in girls aged 13-16 have risen by 68% since 2011.

Sadhana Dance: Unkindest Cut

Sadhana Dance: Unkindest Cut

Sadhana Dance is led by dancer and choreographer Subathra Subramaniam, and incorporates extensive medical and scientific research into its dance productions. Unkindest Cut was made in response to the growing crisis in young people’s mental health. It was developed by Suba during a period as artist-in-residence at the Maudsley Hospital in London, with the active involvement of their Consultant Adolescent Psychiatrist, Dr Partha Banerjea.

The performance explores how our minds cope – and sometimes don’t – with modern life. It includes dance, spoken word and film, and integrates the voices of young people into the heart of the piece. It represents the experience of living through psychological pain, while life goes on outside. Inside the shipping container, watching the show, we experience what is going on in the young people’s minds, but we also hear the day-to-day noises of the street outside. It’s a subtle reminder that it’s what’s on the inside that matters.

We have probably all heard the statistics that 1 in 4 of us is living with a mental health condition. That’s nearly 15 million people in the UK with an illness. Bringing that figure home, it’s 67,000 people in our borough.

And that figure of 1 in 10 children and young people living with a mental health condition means 3 children in an average classroom - in our classrooms in Hounslow, like everywhere else. And 2 of them are probably not getting help.

As so many of you said last year, we need to talk about this. I hope these 2 very different shows encourage us all to talk about mental health with friends, family and colleagues – and to think about our own wellbeing, too. I’m going to end this post, though, with a thought from Subathra Subramaniam from Sadhana Dance:

‘I believe that the essence of human beings can be revealed through art. I want my multi-disciplinary work to instil a curiosity, pose questions, open up debate and discussion. Mental health is such an important issue facing young people today. Unkindest Cut – you could call it a head trip. It’s about reflection, rather than a reaction, a thinking space that can help us think differently about mental health’.

For full details of the shows and talks, please see the What’s On page.

You can follow Teatro Do Mar on Twitter and Facebook @TeatroDoMar

You can follow Sadhana Dance on Twitter and Facebook @sadhanadance

And finally, huge thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund for making this programme possible.