Derry play tackling suicide and mental health to help youth in US
A hard-hitting Derry play boldly tackling the issues of suicide and mental health is set to help young people and adults in the US.
‘Blinkered,’ by Patricia Byrne, premiered last year and recently was taken on a successful seven-weeks theatrical tour of Ireland.
It was produced by Sole Purpose, a professional theatre company based in Derry that tackles important social issues.
It tells the story of Ryan, a local young man dealing with isolation, frustration and loneliness and his overwhelming thoughts of taking his own life, and the devastating impact on the family as they try to come to terms with what unfolds.
It was developed in consultation with mental health professionals. Siobhan O’Neill, Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University, said: “We were very keen to ensure that the play portrayed a realistic story, and reflected some of the themes from the research in Northern Ireland on the factors associated with suicides here.”
It was during the preparation for this play last year that it was seen by a group from Roosevelt High School in Seattle on an exchange trip with Oakgrove Integrated College in Derry.
Janine Magidman, Teacher from Roosevelt High School, said: “Youth suicide is a troubling and tragic concern. Our group from Seattle were deeply moved by our first experience with the Sole Purpose production of ‘Blinkered’ in Derry in 2016. We at Roosevelt had been shocked by two suicides in two years and ‘Blinkered’ gave us permission to bring the issue front and centre.”
Supported by an Arts Council International Development Award, Patricia Byrne, the play’s writer and Artistic Director of Sole Purpose, will travel to Seattle in May for three weeks of workshops with up to 150 students at Roosevelt High School and other schools prior to a major mental health awareness event in the city. She also plans to meet with schools and theatre venues in Seattle and New York that would be interested in booking a performance of Blinkered in 2018.
Sole Purpose’s remit is to address social and public issues and in the past 20 years they have created and performed productions on domestic violence, financial abuse of the elderly, human trafficking, LGBT issues and the ethnic minority experience in N. Ireland.
Blinkered was accompanied by interactive workshops. Patricia said: “In the workshop the audience can make suggestions on ways that they think this young man, Ryan, can be helped, or ways that he can help himself. In everyday life we skirt around the word ‘suicide’ afraid to say it in case we give the person ideas or cause upset. But the truth is, often, asking someone if they feel suicidal can be a relief to them and allow them to talk about how they are feeling.”