With mental health week urging people to speak out, Corey Peterson, creator of theatre company Splinter, talks about You Must Learn to Understand ahead of its performance at The Last Word Festival and talks openly about his own experiences.
Who is Splinter?
Splinter is a Multidisciplinary Theatre and Film Company using poetry, step and original music to expose unspoken truths.
Tell us a little bit about You Must Learn to Understand – what can audiences expect?
You Must Learn to Understand is an explosion of poetry, rhythms, step and original music that paints the picture of the mind of a mental health sufferer after he’s lost a friend to suicide. We begin by diving headfirst into the booms and bangs of his melting pot of a mind, before we follow the narrative of his journey to recovery, embroiled with all the nuances and struggles of his mental condition, as well as all of the inevitable “what if” moments. This isn’t a sob story.
It’s an exploration of the highs, the lows, the magic and the depths of living with clinically diagnosable mental differences.
What inspired you to write this piece?
Having gotten to the other end of years of homelessness and trauma less than a year ago, I was eventually diagnosed with multiple types of PTSD. It was hard explaining to people exactly why I couldn’t help but be distant, why I couldn’t function, why I was such a mess sometimes. It’s funny; I was told that the worst was over and I just had to get on with it and so that’s what I tried to do.
But the more I tried to be a ‘big strong man’ rather than seeking the right help and taking the time that I needed, the worse things got.
I joined a poetry collective as part of my journey to recovery; I like to write. A friend that was going through her own mental struggles, who was also part of one of the collectives I joined, ended up committing suicide. We spoke really openly and closely, even if only for the short while we knew each other, about our struggles and all the similarities and all of the differences. It’s only after she passed that someone said “Wow, there’s actually a reality to all of this”. That made me really want to help everyone understand this reality. We are not weak because we suffer from something that isn’t a part of your reality. It shouldn’t take one of us dying for you to understand that.
There has been an increase in the number of male public figures speaking out lately, with Ryan Reynolds only a few weeks ago talking about how anxiety has taken him to the “depths of the darker end of the spectrum”, do you think we are beginning to see a cultural shift in men speaking up?
I think we are. I think that people are starting to abandon the whole ‘ignorance is bliss’ myth. Refusing to acknowledge things like rape culture, racism, sexism or even life-threateningly heavy mental struggles isn’t bliss, it’s the act of making room for turmoil and/ or death.
This is the time to find your voice and to speak out.
Particularly with the scary rise of deaths by suicide, especially amongst young men, we need to start trying our hardest to talk about, acknowledge and understand the mental conditions, circumstances and journeys that could push someone to such a height.
What more do you think we could do as a society to be understanding towards mental health and in particular, how do you think people in the arts could help?
Don’t just start the conversation, build it until it’s spoken about everywhere; until the myths are dispelled and understanding is being sufficiently and relatively more easily, accessed. People in the arts have control over, in my eyes, the most emotionally accessible and powerful conversation starter there is: art itself. People in the arts could create more content surrounding the topic, or encourage others to see other people’s creations.
Inciting society-wide understanding and empathy may not be as simple as that, but the arts can definitely be a hell of a start.
This year the charity behind Mental Health Awareness week is focusing on stress. Research shows that 1 in 3 employees think about quitting their position on a regular basis, while 13% feel stressed at least once a day. By this token, do you think more could be done in the workplace or at academic institutions?
Yes, we need to create more accessible and shameless avenues in work places and institutions for people to talk about what is going on within them to cause them mentally. People are people, with brains that get tired and emotional capacities that overflow if they aren’t given sufficient and non-judgemental opportunities to vent and to explore possibilities. People may go through different mental struggles, and to different severities, but we are all only just humans. I GENUINELY believe that a lot – not all, but a lot – of the mental health struggles out there, only end up as severe as they end up being because of this ingrained sense of ‘societal etiquette’ whereby we feel we must struggle with everything in silence and be our own heroes.
Why not try just being human? We are all just human.
If you are concerned that you are developing a mental health problem or you can relate to any of the issues above, please head to this handy site from the charity behind Mental Health Awareness Week.