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What's up, Doc?

George Chan

George Chan

14 December 2016

As part of Feel It festival, which took place at Circomedia in November, the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute commissioned a performance exploring research into GP mental health and wellbeing.

The performance was titled PreScribed (a life written for me). It was performed and devised by dance theatre-maker Viv Gordon, who has lived experience of mental health. PreScribed followed an externally successful GP, one who is a partner in her practice, but is under immense pressure from the impossible demands placed on her by the increasingly bureaucratic system.

PreScribed was based on the Improving Access to Support qualitative research for GPs from the University of Bristol, UCL, and Keele University. This study aims to explore what helps and what hinders GPs when they seek support for mental health problems. The devising process for PreScribed consisted of Viv reading multiple interview transcripts from the study, which she used as a basis for her intimate and personal performance of a GP in crisis.

Viv said: 'I was interested in how these stories resonated with my own experiences of mental ill health, and how I could use my personal journey to read between the lines and add authenticity to the work I was creating.'

Ruth Riley, Principal Investigator for Improving Access to Support agreed: 'By drawing on her experience of mental ill health, Viv's piece portrayed the vulnerability of this GP with exceptional insight. Viv humanised this doctor by revealing her capabilities alongside her vulnerabilities, her feelings, her suffering, and her backstory.' 

PreScribed delved into key themes present in the research transcripts. Themes included issues concerning drug and alcohol abuse amongst GPs, the issue of being a partner in the surgery and so financially responsible, and also the culture of invulnerability discussed in the recent British Journal of General Practice editorial - Who cares for the clinicians? 

Ruth Riley described how: 'Viv's powerful and evocative performance brought the research alive and communicated the stories and experiences of GPs in a way that has a great impact on any audience.'

The impact of PreScribed on the audience was evident as both performances were sold out, meaning that over 300 people saw, interacted and engaged with the performance, and consequently the research.

Judging by the response on social media, it was clear that the piece had resonated deeply with audiences. One user on Twitter commented: 'What wonderful performance of PreScribed y’day! So moving, so funny and so true. Great to see research come alive.’ Another Twitter user congratulated the team, saying: 'Bravo Viv Gordon for your show on GPs. All my GP/medic colleagues and friends should see this.'

The post-show discussions were also very popular, with the majority of the audience staying to discuss PreScribed and the performance’s relationship to the research. Multiple audience members asked if it was possible to show PreScribed to politicians making decisions about the NHS, as well as discussing the working relationship between health research and performance. The clear engagement of the audience with the themes of the research demonstrate the benefit of using performance to explore research.

Ruth agreed, adding: 'Performance is much more accessible than your bog standard journal paper and the audience was able to connect with the performer, her struggles and day-to-day experiences.'

This is not the end for PreScribed; the consensus from performer, researchers, and audiences alike was that this piece should continue to be performed. The combination of health research and performance creates a piece that is both important and necessary.

Ruth added: 'We hope that PreScribed may enable doctors and others to speak about their vulnerabilities, mental health and seek help when they need it, so that all front-line clinicians, including GPs, may receive the support and recognition they need and deserve.'

Further information

Visit the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and the Feel It festival websites. 

Follow Viv Gordon and Improving Access to Support on Twitter.