July 2020 – blog entry

By María Carracedo.

Fundación INTRAS

By Jane-Fox – Flickr

Verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse intended to inflict intense humiliation, denigration, or extreme fear, as perceived by the victimised person.  There are several scientific studies that have proven the link between perceived parental verbal abuse in childhood and peer-related verbal abuse in adolescence have been associated with a risk of depressive mood, anxiety, anger-hostility, suicide tendencies, dissociation, or drug use in young adulthood.  Moreover, experience of perceived verbal abuse has been associated with changed patterns of brain maturation, including those regions responsible for sensory processing, emotional regulation, and social interaction-related cognitive functioning such as language and memory. Thus, we can affirm that verbal abuse damages mental health.

On the other hand, people suffering mental health issues have to face verbal violence almost daily. A study carried out by Karni-Vizer and Salzer and published in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal in 2016[1] shows that verbal violence is a common experience among adults with serious mental illnesses. Fifty individuals diagnosed with a schizophrenia-spectrum, bipolar, or major depressive disorder were recruited from community-based mental health agencies and reported on their experiences with 8 types of verbal violence identified in the literature, or related written comments, including: belittling, insulting, name-calling, teasing/embarrassing, threatening, cursing, or yelling. They also reported on the frequency of such events and the perpetrators. The results were that 82% of participants reported at least 1 type of verbal violence in their lifetime and 66% reported an incident in the past year. The most common experiences were being called names, belittled, and insulted, teased, or embarrassed in front of others. Top perpetrators were friends and parents.

The verbal abuse has devastating effects on the recovery, well-being, sense of safety, self-esteem and community participation for individuals with serious mental illnesses, which isolates them even more and makes them more vulnerable to verbal violence.

To improve the wellbeing and recovery of people with mental health issues these loop between verbal violence and mental health has to be broken. ACTitude project aims to create a tool for that purpose by using applied improvisation theatre techniques.

Applied improvisation uses the principles, tools, practices, skills and mind-sets developed in comedy, jazz and theatre and utilises them for non-theatrical or performance purposes, to integrate these principles into daily lives. Personal development, team building, creativity, innovation and wellbeing are some of their areas that benefit from learning applied improvisation methods (Applied Improvisation Network).

Applied improvisation has been used for supporting teenagers to cope with bullying. The improv tools provided them with emotional safeness. Just like this, the students felt in a safe space to discover their true and authentic self while they improved their emotional intelligence to deal with abuse and become more self-confident and aware teenagers.

For that reasons, we believe that improv can provide to people suffering mental issues with a peaceful weapon to defend against verbal abuse and in this way starting breaking the loop.


[1] Karni-Vizer, N., & Salzer, M. S. (2016). Verbal violence experiences of adults with serious mental illnesses. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 39(4), 299–304. https://doi.org/10.1037/prj0000214)  

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