Over the last few years, children’s mental health has become an even more pressing concern for many families, schools and youth-focused organisations. Closed schools, not being able to spend time with family members and friends, and the many stresses of the pandemic have all undoubtedly impacted children’s wellbeing, with the charity YoungMinds finding that 67% of young people believe that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to engage in open discussions about mental health with children and young people. As the organisation that produces the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, as well as year-round performance work for children and young people, we at Imaginate feel a strong sense of responsibility to be part of the conversation around children’s mental health.
At this year’s Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, this will certainly be a focus as the two 2022 festival commissions explore issues around young people’s mental health. I am Tiger, written by Oliver Emanuel during his time as an Imaginate Accelerator artist, explores the theme of coping with loss through the story of a girl who is given a pet tiger by her parents following the death by suicide of her big brother.
The second commission, The Hope River Girls by groupwork, is inspired by real events and follows the story of 24 schoolgirls in upstate New York who started behaving strangely, as they grapple with coming of age under intense social scrutiny.
The theme of mental health is also present through other Imaginate projects this year. Mixed Up by Katy Wilson, which is touring as part of Theatre in Schools Scotland, enables younger children to explore the mixed-up feelings they have been experiencing in these turbulent times through a mix of hip-hop dance, beatboxing and street art.
And artists Sam Hardie and Lewis Hetherington have recently been selected as Imaginate Accelerator Artists for 2022 to develop CREATURES, a new performance looking at our feelings and repressed emotions and asking how we make them visible on the outside.
All these performances speak to the complex experiences children are dealing with right now, as well as how to make sense of a confusing world. We hope that young audiences who experience these works will recognise themselves and their peers through these characters on stage, and feel more equipped to discuss concerns around their mental health.