‘You feel completely isolated’: Depression and mental health explored by Bolton theatre-maker in new show

Political rhetoric and the negative stigmatization surrounding mental health are set to be explored in a new show by a Bolton-born theatre-maker.

Josh Coates, 24, will share his own personal experiences of mental illness in Get Yourself Together, a production that utilises stand-up and spoken word.

Josh was diagnosed with depression on Christmas Eve 2012. On the same day he was hit by a car.

“It was a feeling of complete isolation,” the performer told MM.

“I completely isolated myself with violent, self-deprecating tendencies.

“It made me feel embarrassed to talk about it. There was also the idea that I as a male should be able to control my emotions.”

When the co-pilot responsible for last year’s tragic German Wings plane crash Andreas Lubitz was revealed to have had depression, Josh felt an overwhelming sense that conversation in society suggested those with mental health issues do not fit in.

It got him angry.

“I wanted to do something that responded to that language,” he said.

“At the same time I didn’t want to say I know how to speak about mental health – I don’t think anyone can one hundred per cent.”

And so he got started on his one-man contemporary performance, Get Yourself Together.

Research led Josh to analysing language used in the 2015 Budget and presentations available via the YouGov website for Jobseeker’s Allowance employee training, explaining how to talk to people with mental health issues.

“I got angrier and angrier at how language is used negatively when discussing mental health and the way the ‘language of wellbeing’ was being thrown around,” he said.

“There’s this idea that mental health problems are something you can just recover from like a physical ailment.”

Josh found his own experiences of being on Jobseekers’ Allowance and the job centre process around two years after he was diagnosed very difficult.

“It’s a very cold environment,” the theatre studies graduate said.

“It’s not the fault of Jobseeker’s employees or those who are ill. It’s like there’s a ‘higher power’, a bureaucratic misunderstanding of what mental health is and how to talk about it.

“The Department of Work and Pensions is using that language of wellbeing, for example saying they want cognitive behavioural therapy to be more readily available but through an automated online system, which is kind of the opposite of what the therapy is.

“They are using that phrase to show they know what it means, but then completely misunderstanding it.”

Get Yourself Together will blend stand-up and the spoken word in a way that Josh hopes will make the sensitive issue of mental health, including its political elements, approachable to the audience.

These conventions might appear strange to use when tackling such a serious topic, but he assures it’s not all about the gags.

“It’s not necessarily about the punchlines – although there are at least three jokes!” he said.

“The show is actually quite calm, although I do say I am angry.

“It’s not about shocking people into realising their views on mental health. It’s a slow meditation into it, hopefully.”

Josh also plans to stick around after the show, just in case any audience members feel they would like to talk about their experiences.

Those moments don’t have to happen straight after the show, he said, with his email going on the programme ‘just in case’ people want to speak to him about their issues.

The process of putting the show together and performing continues to be a learning curve for Josh.

“Doing this has helped me understand how political mental health is,” he said.

“That’s been quite freeing.

“I think the more people blame the NHS for failing mentally ill patients, the more they ignore cuts that are happening to mental health services and funding.

“Those making cuts know full well that people are more likely to point the finger at those with a larger presence in their lives.

 “It’s easier to blame your doctor than it is to blame your local MP.

“I’m still learning, and want to learn more. The conversations I hope to have with audience members in the show are just the beginning.”

Get Yourself Together runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre on May 6 and 7.  

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