A world first initiative aimed at performers with mental health issues launches in Auckland this week.

Whariki Hauora (weaving the mat of well-being) is thought to be the world's first specialised mental health support service for performers and the first to involve professional organisations and artists themselves deciding on programmes and support strategies.

Actors Hera Dunleavy, Rachel Nash, Cameron Rhodes and Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho, Changing Minds CEO performer Taimi Allan and Auckland Theatre Company's Whetu Silver have been planning Whariki Hauora for several months.

It follows the deaths of a number of high-profile actors and crew members, including actress Sophia Hawthorne. At Ms Hawthorne's funeral in February, Auckland Theatre Company artistic director Colin McColl urged the formation of an affordable and confidential counselling service.

He said those in the public eye often found it difficult to get help through the usual channels, while others struggled to afford them.

Through Changing Minds, Whariki Hauora will carry out a six-month pilot study where performers can receive six-eight professional counselling sessions, through peer support organisation Mind and Body, for $25 per session.

Mrs Allan says the number of performers who use the service will be evaluated as will anonymous information about why they sought help.

"For a lot of performers, self-worth is often directly linked to being in work and this is a fickle industry where there can be gaps in employment which leads to a loss of self-esteem, financial difficulties, anxiety and depression."

Earlier this month, the New Zealand Music Foundation launched its Wellbeing Service offering those in the Kiwi music community counselling online, on the telephone or in person.

Meanwhile, Mrs Allan and Mr Tukiwaho have been asked to speak at an Australian conference in November where the arts and their role in building mental health resilience are the main themes. They are still fundraising for Mr Tukiwaho to attend.

Actor Cameron Rhodes, well-known for his theatre work and now Australian TV series Rake, says it shows awareness is growing of the need to look at the links between mental health wellness, the arts and specialised services.

He says there's a fundamental contradiction within many actors; while they love performing and can't imagine doing anything else, they find dealing with criticism and rejection difficult.

"If you look at auditions as like going for job interviews, actors do a job interview every few weeks - more often if they're lucky - and are certainly not going to get them all so we deal with constant rejection," says Mr Rhodes.

He also spoke of the highs and lows of performing, saying the adrenalin rush experienced by many on an opening night equals the amount of adrenalin the body releases in a serious car accident.

"And actors are very good at warming up but not so good at cooling down. That often involves a trip to the bar after a performance so there are alcohol and possibly other drug addictions to be considered, too."

Ms Nash, who starred in TV3's The Almighty Johnsons, notes women often face additional issues including the pressure to look youthful, slim and attractive. She says there are also not as many opportunities for women, particularly as they get older.

Funding has so far come from personal philanthropic donations, a small proportion of profits from film or television productions, donating opening night ticket sales and having donation boxes at events.

"We are appealing to people within the industry to raise money for the charitable fund by donating money anyway they reasonably can," says Mrs Allan.

It hopes for a funding boost from the Black Dog Relief: Souls of Solidarity Cabaret at Te Pou - the home of Maori theatre in Auckland - on Saturday. The cabaret will feature a number of artists, including singer Caitlin Smith.

Black Dog Relief was founded last year, following the death of actor Robbie Tripe, and raised $8500 for the Mental Health Foundation. Producer Sharu Delilkan says 100 per cent of proceeds raised at Saturday's cabaret will go toward the Whariki Hauora counselling service.

As well as this service, Whariki Hauora will hold regular meet-ups, encourage actors to be "buddies" available to help and support those experiencing tough times, and share information about strategies to stay healthy. It will also look at how to tell stories about living and coping with mental distress that can be made available to the wider community.

Black Dog Relief: Souls of Solidarity Cabaret will end a week-long season at Te Pou of performances and workshops about mental health.

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