How to Survive a Theatre Degree When You Suffer from Mental Illness

Finn Dobson, Kayla Martell Feldman and Serin Rayner

  • OnStage U.K. Guest Columnists

University is not an easy ride. During the last four years spent studying a BA in Theatre and Performance at the University of Leeds, the three of us have been on a rollercoaster journey of great times, horrific times, medium times, fun times, confusing times, stressful times, and times when we wanted to either kill ourselves or everyone around us. We have suffered through broken bones, broken hearts, panic attacks, paranoia, insomnia, and next week we will hold our middle fingers up to our mental illnesses and walk across a stage in our caps and gowns and collect our degrees. We did it. Against all odds, we are graduating.

615 million people worldwide suffer from anxiety or depression and one in four people will experience at least ONE diagnosable mental health problem in their lifetime (World Health Organisation, 2016). Studying theatre at university presents an odd cocktail of experiences: the pressures to simultaneously get at least a 2:1 in every essay and performance AND have a social life AND get a job so you don’t have to mooch off your parents AND get involved in plays and musicals AND get involved in other societies AND figure out what we’re going to do with a theatre degree, and and and. University is an ongoing series of ‘ands’. Doing a million things at once, consistently biting off more than you can chew, AND struggling through mental illness, is hard.

Along with all these ands, is a but. Yes, it’s hard, it’s challenging, BUT theatre people are the best people to have around you when shit hits the fan. The best thing about our degree is that from day one we spend so much time working together, on degree projects and plays and presentations, that it immediately creates a strong kinship with one another. Although we’re not all ‘friends’, and some of us are barely acquaintances, what our degree does is cultivate really incredible collegiate relationships. We all did this together, and we all made it out alive, and as a result, we will always be there for each other, and we will always help each other.

Now, as we bid farewell to the student life and wonder what the hell we’re going to do now, the three of us would like to share with you our top pieces of advice for surviving a theatre degree when you suffer from mental illness (featuring photos of the things that make life that teensy bit better).

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