The link between creative expression and positive mental health has been known for quite some time now, yet there are few projects who put this into actual practice. A project run by Smashing Times–a socially engaged arts organization based in Dublin, Ireland–called Acting for the Future, has been working off this link for almost a decade and a half now and has recently expanded the work to a European level, under the name Theatre for Positive Mental Health.

Established in 2005, Acting for the Future uses participative drama workshops, professional performances, and post-show panel discussions with counselors and clinical psychologists to promote active healthy lifestyles, positive mental health, and suicide prevention. The project is implemented by Smashing Times in partnership with the Samaritans and Irish Association of Suicidology with assistance from a panel of advisors and is delivered in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland with second level schools, universities and with a range of youth and adult groups and the general public.

The project aims to break down silences surrounding suicide and mental health and to promote and raise awareness of the importance of looking after your physical and emotional wellbeing. The project also promotes active healthy lifestyles, emotional resilience, and coping skills, while highlighting support services available to those in danger of or affected by mental health issues. There is a special emphasis on working in marginalized communities.
Acting for the Future comprises three main elements: firstly, participative drama workshops for adults or young people; secondly, a performance of original plays called Testimonies which are presented and then followed by a post-show panel discussion with counselors, psychologists, and invited guest speakers; and, in keeping with best practice, the third element is a full support structure put in place for all events.

The plays, which are dramatic monologues on mental health, include A Day Out by Paul Kennedy, telling the story of two friends in their twenties and their last day together; and In One Breath by Mary Moynihan, a portrait of a woman in the eye of the storm, battling mental illness.

Acting for the Future has received a daa Arts Award at the Allianz Business to Arts Awards, a GSK Ireland Impact Award, a Dublin Bus Community Spirit Award, and a National Lottery Good Cause Award in recognition of its work. The project has also been recognized as “an example of ‘best practice’ in how it was organized and delivered” by an independent evaluator at Arklow Mental Health Week. Maeve Ingoldsby, writer and playwright, described the project as “theatre-in-education at its best.” One student present for the workshops and performances had this to say of the project: “I always knew promotion of mental health was important but now I believe that it should be promoted even more and more workshops and performances like this should be available for everyone.”

Smashing Times have now extended this project to a European level under Theatre for Positive Mental Health, a transnational project using creative processes of theatre and film to promote positive mental health and well-being. Building on the award-winning Acting for the Future model, this new programme, supported by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, promotes collaborative exchange and mutual learning between five partner organisations, two from Ireland, and one each from Spain, Italy, and Latvia. Theatre for Positive Mental Health brings together artists and educators to explore the use of creative processes to promote positive mental health and coping strategies for dealing with stress and anxiety. The five partners are Smashing Times, Dublin, Ireland (lead partner); EURORESO, Naples, Italy; Biedriba Eurofortis, Riga, Latvia; Fundacion Intras, Valladolid, Spain; and Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

Adam Traynor in A Day Out

The partner organizations come together through five collaborative partner exchanges in order to create a new European wide creative arts program to be implemented by artists and health care educators in each partner country, using theatre and film to promote positive mental health and well-being. The project results in the creation of a book; a theatre workshop model; video demonstrations; and a short creative art film, promoting positive mental health and well-being, and coping skills for handling stress and anxiety.

Additionally, Acting for the Future recently expanded to incorporate new work with refugees in Ireland, using the arts to promote positive mental health and social inclusion with refugees from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This work is supported by the HSE National Office for Social Inclusion, and results in access to a quality arts experience creating a safe and welcoming space and a fun and engaging way to explore positive mental health and active healthy lifestyles. The project offers ongoing support to refugees and asylum seekers in relation to using creative processes to promote positive mental health and well-being. Project activities include an outreach campaign, theatre workshops, research, and the development of guidelines and leaflets on the use of creative processes to promote positive mental health and social inclusion.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.