Julie Norburn, Executive Director shares her thoughts about mental health for artists.

The phrase ‘mental health for artists’ is a rare topic, and it can be because of the common misconception that the art we make is our therapy.

While there has been meaningful research on why therapy needs the arts to boost mental health, there has been substantially less research on mental health for artists. What we fail to realise is that it is important for art and mental health to have an interchangeable relationship: Art for mental health and mental health for artists. 

You may wonder, what problems do artists face when they don’t have to sit stagnant in an office booth from 9-5? Well, here are my top 4 picks.

1) Financial insecurity: The arts industry is competitive and many artists, both good and bad, struggle to find jobs that pay the bills.

2) Low self-esteem: When an artist’s work is rejected or lacks support, they can begin doubting themselves, eventually becoming trapped in an endless cycle of the “I want to do this but I don’t think I can but I don’t see myself doing anything else” state of mind.

3) Trauma: Before I dive into this, let me emphasize that to be an artist, you do not need to experience trauma. Everybody has the potential to be artistic, but to produce creative ideas takes time and effort, and often people draw creativity out when they most need it to survive. For those artists who cope with trauma, some translate it into art as an attempt to create distance, while others find that repeatedly confronting their trauma can sometimes worsen the situation. It’s crucial that these artists become aware of what other spaces they need and have besides their artistic practice, to cope with their trauma.

4) Fatigue: We may not be bound to a 9-5 office job, so that we have time to be creative, but we say ‘yes’ to any job, so that we can pay the bills. This means irregular hours, travelling between places and skipping meals so that we can make it on time.

With the above, artists also handle emotional problems like everyone else.  Yes, it’s true that many of us use a creative outlet to release baggage or communicate what can’t be voiced out. Our art gives us a passage to channel emotions and unravel unspoken thoughts. It’s satisfying to see it all mapped out on paper, making it easier to follow the tangled routes in our minds.

But, is art the only solution?
The art we create may not be the answer to everything we struggle with. And that’s okay. You don’t have to give up your art, you just have to tuck it under a warm blanket and let it rest for a while. You may already be familiar with the following tactics for coping with fear or distress, but try looking at them from a different perspective:

  1. Sleeping early, Eating well and exercise. Obvious!
  2. Learn to say NO if the workload is overwhelming. Only say yes to what gives you zest and feeds your artistic purpose. Business coach and author, Vicki McLeod says, “giving yourself permission to say ‘no’ is giving permission to say ‘yes’ to you”.
  3. Stop comparing. Everyone defines success differently. Snagging a role in a commercial may mean nothing to you, but to that girl who has faced multiple audition rejections in the past 3 years, that role means everything.
  4. Find your power squad-a network of support where you and your peers check in on one another. There are many support networks set up both on and offline for artists across various needs, to exchange advice.
  5. Speak up. If you are feeling low, call a person close to you and let them know. Don’t suffer alone. Various organisations and charities provide social, online and helpline services specifically for artists. Don’t stay quiet, let’s talk about mental health for artists today.
  6. I’ve read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron because she knows what she’s talking about.

Being an artist is tough work. We are more than “Artists”. We are entrepreneurs who must take financial risks and step out of our comfort zones. We are self-motivators who must be hungry for inspiration, and that means getting out of bed to look for it. We are creatives who have to experiment and adapt to current interests. We are in constant motion of think, move, discover, make, doubt, repeat. And it can be exhausting.

Take a second to breathe. Be kind to yourself.


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