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Student theatre mental health

Finding balance

What: Finding Balance - a collaborative ‘digital interactive theatre’ (DIT) project designed and delivered as a public health/public engagement activity to raise awareness of mental health about ‘low level stress and anxiety’

Who: James Wilson, Principal Teaching Fellow, University of Southampton 


Finding Balance is a collaborative ‘digital interactive theatre’ (DIT) project designed and delivered as a public health/public engagement activity to raise awareness of mental health about ‘low level stress and anxiety’. It was specifically created to focus on the experience of the Sixth Form College student exploring the life decisions taken prior to their a-level exams. A DIT combines a story written in a 'choose your own adventure' style with multiple paths and then presented as a live theatrical play to the audience. At choice points via a student response system the audience get to make decisions on how the actor proceeds.  

Who was involved?

The collaboration included staff and students from both the University of Southampton & Barton Peveril Sixth Form College. University of Southampton student nurses volunteered to be the actors for the project. The project lead was James Wilson, Principal Teaching Fellow, University of Southampton. The Key partners in the project included: Nicola Carcone, Deputy Principal, Barton Peveril, College, eight student nurses from the University of Southampton and two Barton Peveril College students.

PH case study Finding balance 2

Personal background

The collaboration was led by James Wilson, Principal Teaching Fellow at the University of Southampton, a National Teaching Fellow with the Higher Education Academy and a registered mental health nurse. James created the digital interactive theatre method in 2014 to provide academics and students the opportunity to reach out to the community and achieve an education that truly values person-centre care and co-production. 

Approach: Promotion and Prevention

Location: University of Southampton Nuffield Theatres (City), Southampton Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, Eastleigh

Speciality: Public Mental Health and Wellbeing Awareness

What prompted the work? 

Public mental health and wellbeing is recognised as one of the “greatest social challenges of our time”. Overall, it is estimated that one in ten children and young people have a diagnosable mental disorder – the equivalent of three pupils in every classroom across the country. Schools and Colleges are a vital part of a wider systems approach in promoting positive wellbeing and preventing mental illness. The specific issue identified and focused on was 'low level stress and anxiety' amongst upper sixth form students particularly around the preparation and performance of A-Level exams. The project is a response to the national reporting trends on increasing numbers of young people seeking mental health support around the exam season.

How did you initiate your work?

Work to co-create an authentic story included the input the student nurses and Barton college students. Eight student nurses were recruited as volunteers and underwent a rehearsal process. Dates to perform the project were agreed and included: a 'health through arts' festival and Barton Peveril College. Local media outlets were contacted to extend the mental health awareness messages (e.g. BBC Radio Solent). An evaluation of the project was designed and individual reflective accounts and peer reviews provided the evidence of effectiveness.

What difference has your work made?

College students evaluations via the pre & post questions showed they had a heightened ability to recognize stress in themselves and in others. Student nurse reflections highlighted the beneficial personal development opportunities. Public comments included 'every sixth former should see this play'. Peer review (Healthwatch) stated Finding balance has an important role in influencing change. 

What are the long term objectives?

The Finding Balance DIT is an innovative production combining theatre and technology. 

Sustainability and scalability is being explored which will include link work with University outreach teams, public health organisations, student unions and sixth form colleges.

PH case study Finding balance 1
Nurses 4 public health

Nurses 4 public health

The RCN has been working with members on a series of case studies which help showcase the variety of ways nurses are currently working to improve public health. 

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