‘Trapped in the labyrinth’: exploring mental illness through devised theatrical performance

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Abstract

Mental health difficulties remain a major source of burden and distress for individuals, families, health and social care providers with stigma a key target for educational campaigns attempting to improve care pathways and access to support. Stigma is a multifaceted concept having a range of drivers including shame and is thought to act as a barrier to successful help seeking and engagement with support services. The current paper explores some of the salient themes that emerged from a British university drama project on the impact of symptoms and behaviours associated with a severe mental health condition on a young couple's relationship and reflects on the opportunities for connection with an audience provided by the medium and experience. It is suggested that enabling the impact of mental ill health to be explored in a protected environment such as theatre can allow for reflection and empathy to develop, with potential for positive impact on awareness understanding and stigma. Elements of the drama setting and narrative are explored, and analogies are made with the emerging literature on post-traumatic growth.

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