Thought for the Day: Finding a Means to Speak

Thursday 15 June 2017

The proportion of 15/16 year olds reporting that they frequently feel anxious or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years, from 1 in 30 to 2 in 30 for boys and 1 in 10 to 2 in ten for girls. (Source: http://www.youngminds.org.uk/about/whats_the_problem/mental_health_statistics) It has never been more important for young people to find a means to speak and to speak their truth.  Even though we are more connected than we ever have been, accessing these connections is becoming increasingly isolating. The more a young person focuses energy on the micro, techno-world of a smart device, the more pressing the need for opportunities to focus energy out into the real world and to speak. Technology is a wonderful thing. I can connect to my sister in Canada any time I want to…

Except, these connections we make, the same for all of us, are typed words on a screen, waiting to be read, toneless, sub-textless and flat. Until read, it's a bit like being ignored, in truth. And when read, sometimes, often, messages can be misunderstood.  Social media advice is to not give personal details away. This makes absolute safety sense, to protect vulnerable youngsters from potential predators. However, is this publicly presented persona then given a more powerful voice and more opportunity to speak than the real person? And when does the real person with the real anxieties and concerns get their opportunity to be heard?  One of the worst symptoms of mental health difficulties is getting stuck in your head. That is where paranoia builds and anxiety grows and the inner monologue of negative self-talk gets out of control. It's important to change with the times but if we ignore the true value of being human, our young people in crisis will grow into what kind of adults? In his mini-essay for the BBC Radio 2 programme, Being Human, UK rapper, Professor Green, cites three very powerful things which helped save him that have a resonance with what youth theatre can offer young attendees: It's the moments I shared with people that put a smile on my face.Success felt good in itself.Happiness isn't a permanent state and neither is sadness. Speaking out is important.(The full episode can be accessed here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0428f4c) These things are free and infinitely possible within our youth theatres. Theatre is therapy. By accident or by intent, that very human thing of sharing, empathising and connecting, takes us back to our reason for being.
History and innovation have put us where we are. However, it is the new interactions of human beings that will propel us forward. Acts and interactions, responses and reactions are the sparkling gems of living on our road to get to the end of life in one piece. To survive and survive well.  Youth theatre is a place where young people can be who they are, can speak and interact, can have opinions and change their thinking, all-the-while celebrating their quirks and differences, and where everyone matters.  There are many enigmas in life that appear to dictate the way we should behave and feel and exist. Society, the Media, People?...who are these great gods of pressure and control? They are as ethereal and unassailable as the gods of the dawn of time and yet they are what many of our young people are faithful to.  We can offer the chance of another influence to help give a voice to young people and help nurture good mental health. Imagine the power of the young people who engage in youth theatre who have the strength to claim themselves and find a positive, aspirational path in life, then serving as a nurturing influence on the youngsters who struggle daily with the blackness of mental ill-health. Not as counsellors or therapists, of course, but as a powerful and hopeful energy in which others can feel lifted and supported.  If we can nurture the non-judgemental, open, accepting-of-all-differences, beauty of youth theatre, then maybe, just maybe, the dark can feel lighter.

Jeanne Stacey

I have been a secondary drama teacher and youth theatre creative director for over 20years, predominantly in Harlow and Bishop’s Stortford. I have worked with young people in workshops, devising and performing theatre in schools and local community theatres.