But these conversations and scenarios are not easy, and so it is important that there is support to learn more about mental health literacy or how to start a conversation.
“At The Australian Ballet we’ve had some staff complete their Mental Health First Aid training. I’ve seen shifts of conversations change from, “I don’t know how to talk to that person. I don’t know how to approach that,” to people identifying, “That person seems different lately, what can I do to support them?”
Jess is very aware of her role as a leader in this space and talks about what she does in her role to lead by example.
“I am very mindful that I need to ‘walk the talk’. I talk about it all the time, so I need to make sure that I follow through. So, there have been days when I say, “I’m really sorry, I can’t come in today, just need a mental health day,” and I call it instead of pretending I’m unwell.”
“Or if someone at work asks how I am, I respond honestly with how I’m feeling instead of faking smiling followed with a “Fine!” I think the more people who see other colleagues talking openly like this in the workplace then the more likely it is they will do so too. Leading by example is the biggest thing I try to do. It can be extremely hard because you’re under so many pressures as well, but you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.”
In fact, that was one of the biggest lessons Jess had whilst compiling self-care tips for others – she realised how much she needed to look after herself, and have boundaries within a busy role.
“As someone who cares for a lot of people, it’s also in my power to care for myself in that space.”
Jess highlights going forward into 2021 and beyond will be a new reality for performing arts companies.
“How do you keep bringing people together when you can’t all be in one place? How can we all think a little bit differently and outside of the box? We’ve gone through a new wave of change and with that should come new ways of working and new ways of thinking.”
“And change is exciting – using that excitement as an impetus to change the culture or look at how we can invigorate our companies. And that invigoration then also leads to an amazing new product on the stage or an amazing piece of art.”
Jess cites how COVID-19 has meant that now going on tour requires a new level of organisation and awareness for companies, as well as the mind shift that comes with operating throughout a pandemic. And, that we all play a role in keeping an ongoing awareness of the wellbeing challenges.
“It’s just being mindful as an industry –we’ve each gone through a really different experience. Everyone one of us had our own personal experience within this time and as an industry we’ve all had vastly different experiences. In terms of what companies were allowed to do and what they weren’t allowed to do, how we as individuals lost our purpose or found it, how they’ve come together or how they’ve drifted apart. I think it’s just about approaching everyone with a kindness, so that we can come together and move forward.” And when we do bounce back, we will go, “Wow, that was pretty amazing what we all just did and that we did it together!”
Support Well will be available soon on the Arts Wellbeing Collective website. For more information on The Australian Ballet, visit australianballet.com.au