Mental health awareness is a hotly debated subject at the moment and many people will experience challenges with their mental health at some point in their lives. Mental health is everyone’s business. It can happen to anybody. Experiencing poor mental health is not an issue specific to the creative industries and one in four adults in the UK will deal with a mental illness at some point. However, for the majority of self employed artists and engineers, there is no compassionate leave, no sabbatical, no HR support, often times of little peer support and that expectation to carry on regardless. The nature of precarious work in a business that often pays terribly unless you hit the very upper echelons can exacerbate both physical and mental health.
There is an existential crisis surrounding the idea of value and worth which becomes this creeping anxiety about whether or not what you do is valuable. If allowed, that anxiety can generate an environment in which it’s nearly impossible to imagine a future. There are a multitude of factors that cause mental difficulties, such as lack of sleep, long working hours, unrealistic deadlines, being thrust into the spotlight and gruelling non-stop tours and promotions.
High profile celebrities coming forward to openly discuss their mental health concerns has led to a huge awareness and the depth of the problem. These problems aren’t just prevalent among the high profile artists we know and love, but are entrenched in every layer, from the jobbing musicians trying to piece together a demo, to tour managers, producers, engineers and agents. The increased awareness of mental health in the creative industries and the stigma surrounding mental illness appears to be fading. We now talk more openly about mental health and the death of Amy Winehouse in 2011 and more recently Chester Bennington and Keith Flint has forced even more discussion across the industry.
So what can we do?
Around one in four workers are affected by conditions like depression, anxiety and stress every year. It is vital they get the support they need. It’s important to think about your own mental health… if you can’t look after yourself, you can’t in turn look after your artists.
After the death of Linkin Parks front man Chester Bennington, his widow highlighted the five universal signs of mental illness. She identified them as:
• Change in Personality
• Agitation and Irritability
• Change in self care
• Feeling Hopeless
The creative process itself can have a great self medicating effect for mental health issues, but it can also produce incredible highs and lows that can exacerbate mental health issues so you can’t let the pressures determine who you are. Once the issue is out into the open and we are talking about it we need to keep talking about it. It’s alright to have feelings of anxiety and depression but you do need to do something about it because if you don’t the pressure will make it worse. Recognise the warning signs and keep people around you who are there for you for support. It’s important to see that it’s not always just one thing but a combination of things that can bring you down.
We need to be able to signpost people to those who can help. We all know from the media that the current NHS mental health services are overwhelmed. However, there are others able to help in addition to the NHS. There are many councillors who offer personal support and services and charities such as MIND, BAPM (British Association for Performing Arts Medicine) and the MMF (Music Managers Forum), Music Minds Matter, MIND, Time to Change and Young Minds.
Once we start paying more attention, we might be able to lessen the stigma associated with mental health and have a healthier and more sustainable industry.