#TeachMentalHealthNow: An Artist's Approach | Kaitlin Hopkins | TEDxFargo

#TeachMentalHealthNow: An Artist's Approach | Kaitlin Hopkins | TEDxFargo



in the spring of 2009 I got a call from a guy I didn't know to go to a place I'd never heard of an interview for a job I had never done and I had no idea why the call came from dr. John Flemming who at the time was the chair of the Department of Theatre and dance at Texas State University and he wanted to know if I would be interested in creating a new bachelor of fine arts degree or BFA in musical theater I never even finished college so although I had been performing professionally for over 25 years at that point creating a college musical theater program was not on my resume or my bucket list oh I'm a native New Yorker so the idea of moving west of the Isle of Manhattan was ridiculous to me on so many levels I can't even tell you the only wildlife I had ever seen was a cockroach that being said whether it was fate the universe or dr. John Flemming being a particularly persuasive human I left a successful career as a film television and Broadway actress to start a new career as a college professor I was 45 years old my husband and I owned a beautiful condo on the Upper West Side of Manhattan I was set to go into the Broadway revival of Bye Bye Birdie and instead we moved to San Marcos Texas I was raised in show business my mother is an award-winning actress my father was an award-winning theater and film producer and my stepfather was an award-winning screenwriter and playwright so why is any of that important well between my upbringing and my career I had opportunities to witness great artists in their creativity I also witnessed many of their struggles and the challenges inherent in our industry related to mental illness drug and alcohol addictions eating disorders suicide and more and after only a few years as an educator working with my beautiful students I was overwhelmed and devastated by how many of them were struggling with these same issues often by the time it was evident that there was a problem the type of intervention needed required more than just a trip to the Counseling Center it meant leaving school for a period of time or in a few cases permanently either way it significantly impacted each student's life and education and in an effort to find solutions for my students I reached out to my colleagues at other universities and I discovered that I was not alone and that performing arts programs across the country are plagued with these issues I also reached out to the Counseling Center at Texas State and I learned that college campuses across the nation are in the midst of what experts are calling a mental health epidemic their counseling centers are overrun with students with serious mental health issues according to the National Alliance on Mental Health in the last 25 years rates of depression and anxiety among young people have risen a staggering 70% well artists are certainly in a high-risk demographic for these kind of issues but so it turns out or a high percentage of college students in general in fact one half of all lifetime case of mental illness begin by age 14 3/4 by age 24 the age demographic that I work with and I'm just gonna give you an example in the first three years that I was teaching I had three young women who were struggling with eating disorders and body image issues I had four male students who were struggling with varying degrees of drug or alcohol dependencies I had a student who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder another student who was struggling with crippling anxiety attacks and another with debilitating depression it's estimated that one in four people between the ages of 16 and 25 have had suicidal thoughts well okay those are really worrying statistics but what should worry us more is that those numbers are slated to rise significantly in the next five years according to a 2013 national college health assessment report a third of us college students reported difficulty in functioning due to depression and almost half said they had overwhelming anxiety well unfortunately students and our College at a time when they're significantly particularly susceptible to mental illness presenting itself and sometimes the challenges and stressors of college life can act as triggers like being away from home for the first time overwhelming workloads lack of sleep fear of failing sexual identity issues or living in a tiny dorm room with a pot-smoking video-gaming math major true story so it's easy to see how students can get stuck in a cycle of stress and anxiety which in turn can lead to depression eating disorders addictions and other ways that they cope with and self-medicate their stress when I started teaching one of my missions was to approach artists training in a holistic way challenging the traditional model of focusing solely on performance abilities and techniques but also educating on a curricular level about mental health and wellness our college campuses are the perfect place to do this and there is exciting information out there that can revolutionize the way our students are processing information when they are under stress we just have to use it oh I want to share with you some of the things that we're doing at Texas State to address these issues okay so in fall of 2014 I met dr. bill Crawford Bill's the father of one of our BFA acting students and he is also a renowned psychologist and after seeing what young artists are up against on a daily basis he offered to come and talk to our students about how to better manage their stress and anxiety well as a result of that visit I ended up collaborating with dr. Crawford and creating a curriculum based on his work to address the mental health needs of our students we're now teaching that curriculum to our incoming freshman musical theatre majors to help them better transition into college life but also to help them deal with the unique stressors of the industry that they're entering I want to introduce you to a new way of looking at the solution through the science of the brain and how it works under stress dr. Crawford's models explain science behind stress and how to influence our lives in more positive ways he created a three-part system he calls life from the top of the mind I'm gonna give you a little taste of it so the first thing that we need to understand about stress is what stress actually is we've been told that stress is what something or someone does to us parents stress us out relationship stress us out our jobs stresses out the good news is it's not true what stress really is is actually just a series of chemical changes in our bodies those chemicals for the most part our adrenaline noradrenaline and cortisol so simply put that is what stress is a series of chemical changes in our bodies now those chemical changes are triggered by a part of the brain called the limbic system or the middle brain so the problem isn't the stress I'm gonna say that again the problem isn't the stress the problem is actually how the limbic system interprets the data it receives so the key is for us to train the limbic system which acts like a scanner a processor and a router to take the information it gets from the five senses and interpret it in a way that it can send that data up to the neocortex instead of down to the brainstem so why is any of that important in its most simplistic form these tools teach students how to shift from the reactive part of their brain the brain stem where stress anxiety their fight or flight response lives no good decision-making is going to come when they are trapped in their brain stems so these tools teach students how to shift from their brain stem to the upper 80% of their brain the neocortex I feel like there should be a really big sound queue there the neocortex is awesome it's where clarity and creativity and compassion and confidence live and where they can function from a more purposeful part of who they are eventually with practice they can train themselves to alter the chemical makeup of their bodies from releasing adrenaline noradrenaline cortisol what we just identified as the stress drugs to releasing serotonin and endorphins these are chemicals that help us think more clearly and feel better a few of the other things that we're doing at Texas State to help our students stay out of their brain stem and get into their neocortex and stay there hopefully for longer periods of time is we've introduced five minutes of mindful breathing or meditation at the top of all of our performance classes now this offers students multiple times throughout the day to reboot their nervous system that's what I like to call little mini stress interventions we also have a Big Brother Big Sister program where current students are mentoring incoming freshmen and our alumni or mentoring our graduating seniors we've also integrated all of our performance classes and the curriculum in those classes in a way that creates more community and offers the students a more cohesive experience in their learning and we spend as much time educating on mental health as we do on vocal health physical health and nutrition so these are just a few examples along with dr. Crawford's work of the extensive changes that we've made in our training curriculum the best part is it's working and we're seeing significant improvement in our students overall emotional well-being and more importantly they have a shared vocabulary between the faculty and the students is the way to communicate and better address student needs and through the skill set that they're developing and the self-awareness the students were seeing an increase in healthy behaviors and a decrease in the severity of mental health and stress-related issues we're hoping overtime to also prove and increase some retention and graduation rates which will make my boss dr. John Fleming who's now my Dean really happy so in addition to the mental wellness curriculum we're developing a Texas State this fall we are embarking on cutting edge research to further explore innovative ways to incorporate mental health and also life skills training into our students degree plans so what needs to change we take preventative measures in almost every area of our health yearly mammograms teeth cleaning eye exams we routinely check blood pressure as part of our yearly health exam so why not mental health are we giving our students the mental health skills they need to succeed I don't think we are and I think as parents grandparents administrators and conscientious adults we have a responsibility to do that what if our students had as much class time in mental health as they do in sex education and nutrition both topics I might add there were once met with resistance as part of health education in our schools we must demand that it be standard practice in how we educate our students and most certainly and how we train our visual and performing artists the president of Mental Health America stated mental illnesses remain the only chronic diseases we typically wait until stage four to treat the stigma surrounding mental health has prevented us for far too long from making much needed and I would offer imperative innovations in our educational institutions and our health care imagine what our future artists athletes nurses scientists engineers and teachers might be capable of living in the most creative healthiest and more purposeful part of who they are the top of their minds we have an obligation to give them the tools to achieve this in the spring of 2009 I got a call from a guy didn't know to go to a place I'd never heard of an interview for a job I had never done and now I think I know why join me in a movement to make this change teach mental health now thank you you

8 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *