The holidays can be a difficult time for those dealing with the loss of loved ones or mental health issues such as suicidal thoughts.
“It’s not all elves and Santa Claus,” said David Peacock, an actor and licensed drama therapist who leads mental health workshops at the None Too Fragile Theater in Akron.
The theater, known for its Off Broadway-style black box theatre, does not have a holiday-themed play in December. It produces the Pulitzer Prize-winning American classic “‘Night, Mother” by Marsha Norman, whose two-character story focuses on suicide, from December 2-17.
Paired with the show’s heavy subject matter, None Too Fragile is offering the free “The Book of Life and Death” workshop on suicidal ideation on December 4. Peacock will lead the Theater Therapy program, which includes lunch, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the theater lobby at 732 W. Exchange St.
Work during the holidays
Those who mourn loved ones they have lost to suicide often struggle to make it through the holidays.
“It’s the first time they’ve joined in a family reunion, oh, that person won’t be there. So it recycles or rekindles the grief, and so they feel deprived at the time when everyone seems having fun,” Peacock said.
Friends and family can support those struggling with bereavement by asking about their loved ones’ vacation plans and asking if the holidays are a difficult time for them.
“What people can do is talk about it, how they feel and what the holidays mean to them,” Peacock said.
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People may feel inhibited from sharing their grief during the holidays. But Peacock stressed that it’s important to share your struggles with the loss at this time.
“That’s when you have to speak up. You have to say, ‘You know, this is my first time without this person and I’m having a hard time coping with this,'” he said. “The party can turn into a celebration of remembrance for that person.”
Which months have the most suicides?
The holidays can be a difficult time for many, but suicide rates don’t increase then, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to data from the CDC National Center for Health Statistics in September, the months of 2021 with the highest number of suicides in the United States were August and October, with December ranking 10th for the number of suicides per month, November 9 and January 8.
The number and rate of suicides in the United States increased by 4% between 2020 and 2021, after two consecutive years of decline in 2019 and 2020, according to the CDC.
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If someone you know says they want to end their life, the first thing to ask is whether the person has a plan, Peacock said.
If they don’t have a plan, they’re probably struggling with suicidal ideation or thoughts. If they have a plan, Peacock said, “then the alarm bells should start ringing.” Whatever the answer, Peacock said, ask the person if they’ve spoken to a mental health professional and offer information about organizations that can help, including phone numbers.
“Do you want me to come with you? Do you want me to call someone on your behalf? are other questions to ask, Peacock said. “And just stay with them.”
What is drama therapy?
The purpose of meaningful drama is to hold up a mirror to life to help us make sense of it. Peacock, one of Ohio’s few drama therapists, said every professional American theater should have a resident drama therapist.
“Respond to what’s happening in life and don’t hesitate,” he said.
In Peacock’s drama therapy practice, he often sees clients who have exhausted themselves with other forms of therapy.
“I don’t traumatize them anymore and I work remotely through metaphors so they can work through whatever problem they have without becoming distressed,” said Peacock, who uses storytelling as a tool to help with healing.
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Through stories, he says, a person begins to identify with a character. The client is separated from the trauma of the story and the character does the work for them, Peacock said.
The theater’s co-artistic director, Sean Derry, agreed with the importance of drama therapy in theaters. Many of None Too Fragile’s plays deal with topics of mental health or trauma where the characters face extraordinary circumstances. Hearing and seeing these stories unfold helps people reflect on what they or their loved ones have been through.
“When I saw the benefits of what David does as a theater therapist for other people, I thought, ‘You know, it would be great to have that as an ongoing part of what we let’s do”, like None Too Fragile is not only about telling stories, but also about providing a means of healing and giving a voice to people who didn’t feel like they had a voice because of their trauma. or their pain,” Derry said.
Peacock, 62, is a member of the Actors’ Equity Association and British Actors Equity, originally from Scotland. He obtained a master’s degree in drama therapy from the University of Roehampton in London. He is a member of the UK Health Care Professions Council and the British Association of Dramatherapists.
He has lived with his wife, Lisa, in Akron since 2011 and obtained US citizenship in June. She recently completed her PhD in Drama Therapy at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England.
His private theater therapy work in Akron also includes work with veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. Since 2018, he has been leading drama therapy workshops on post-traumatic stress, addiction and identity at None Too Fragile.
book of hope
Participants in Peacock’s “Book of Life and Death” Drama Therapy Workshop begin with drama games and end up creating a book that will help with the subject of suicide.
Drama games begin by rolling a ball to each person in the circle and saying their own name and the other person’s name while doing so, which requires eye contact. This encourages the group to work as a team from the start.
Through key prompts, each builds a “Book of Life and Death” that includes positive self-affirmations. In doing so, they connect with others in the room and a positive, collective energy develops, the theater therapist said.
“It’s a book of hope and it shows them that there are certain things in their lives that they still want to do, that they are loved and people care about them,” Peacock said.
“The Book of Life & Death,” developed by Peacock drama mentor Pete Holloway in the UK, comes from a hospital background. Peacock has been running the workshop for 15 years, including with veterans who have made multiple suicide attempts.
“As the clock slows down, you’re actually giving them a bit of a break” from suicidal thoughts, Peacock said.
How to Participate in a Drama Therapy Workshop
Anyone who is interested in the issue of suicide can register for the drama therapy workshop, which is a public service to the community and can accommodate about twenty participants.
Participants are encouraged to bring a yoga mat for the active workshop, which uses theater as a therapeutic tool for people to tell their stories, set goals, solve problems, express feelings and achieve catharsis.
Participants may include those with suicidal thoughts, those who have lost someone to suicide, those whose family members have attempted suicide, mental health professionals, or others.
Registrants do not need to see “‘Nuit, Maman” to participate in the workshop. A trigger warning regarding the piece’s highly sensitive material, including references to self-harm and suicide, can be seen at nonetoofragile.com.
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The theater warning urges those who are thinking about suicide or know someone who is thinking about suicide to call, text or chat to 988 for the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
People in emotional distress or in a suicidal crisis can also call 800-273-8255 to speak to trained counselors free of charge 24/7. For more information, see 988lifeline.org.
Other resources for help are Summit County ADM Board’s 24-hour mental health crisis line at 330-434-9144, Portage Path’s 24-hour psychiatric crisis services at 330-762- 6110 or by texting “NAMI” to 741741 for 24/7, confidential and free crisis consultation. (See namisummit.org/crisis-info.)
Art and restoration writer Kerry Clawson can be reached at 330-996-3527 or [email protected]
Details of the drama therapy workshop
Program: “The Book of Life and Death”, a drama therapy workshop on suicidal ideation
When: Workshop 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 4, arrival 9:30 a.m.
Where: None Too Fragile Theater, 732 W. Exchange St., Akron
Show the details
Drama: “‘Night, Mother”
When: Opening at 8 p.m. on December 2, until December 17, 8 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday, 2 p.m. on December 11, 8 p.m. on December 12
Where: None Too Fragile Theater, 732 W. Exchange St., Akron
On the scene: Anne McEvoy, Kelly Strand
In the wings: Marsha Norman, playwright; Sean Derry, director
Information: nonetoofragile.com or 330-962-5547