How important is mental health for creatives?

Phemi Kgomongwe
4 min readJul 14, 2020
Photo by Vinicius "amnx" Amano on Unsplash

Creatives are a special breed of humans that posses a certain ability — not just to create but — to create constantly. Now if you pair that ability with the harnessed passion and dedication to a craft or skillset you get close to people like Silly Been, Dj Bubbles, Black Coffee etc.

Think of them as vessels that gather speckles of energy and mould it into something else that becomes ready to pour out to the world. This process is consuming in more ways than one — the patience to harness inspiration (as you would when turning water vapour into water), the skillset to mould inspiration into some form of art and finally the selfless ability to pour it out to the world for consumption.

It is draining, it has to be draining.

How do they replenish? What gives them the ability to do it over and over again? What compels them to do it over and over again, sometimes to their own detriment?

The UK produced its own report on mental health in the creative world titled “Can Music Make You Sick” which was a collaboration between Help Musicians UK(HMUK)and the University of Westminster.

“Mental health is one of the most important issues the music industry is facing right now. It is a complex matter, often co-existing alongside other factors related to welfare, relationships, physical health, employment and financial strain. It’s one of the many challenges that musicians can face managing their careers.”

“…a musician’s recovery isn’t always black and white. For some people, not everything they’re going through has a full resolution. Some musicians make a complete recovery, but for others it’s an ongoing process…” they will need an institution or someone who “…is able to support them, encourage them, connect them with advice and resources, and walk alongside them on their journey.”

The report also found twelve (12) key factors that can impact on a musician’s mental health and creatives in general.

1. Music makers relationship to their work is integral to their sense of self. It’s how they define themselves.

2. People in the music industry need to believe in themselves and in their work, yet the unpredictable nature of the business can knock that belief.

3. Music makers can be reflective and highly self-critical and exist in an environment of constant critical feedback.

4. A career in music is often precarious and unpredictable.

5. Many musicians have several different jobs as part of a portfolio career, and as a result can feel as though they work 24/7 and can’t take a break.

6. It can be hard for musicians to admit to insecurities because of competition and wanting to appear on top of things.

7. Family, friends and partners play an important role in supporting musicians, but this can also lead to feelings of guilt.

8. Musicians working environment can be anti-social and unsympathetic, with some people experiencing sexual abuse, harassment, bullying and coercion.

9. Musicians can find it hard to access affordable professional help for mental health issues.

10. As many musicians are self-employed, they can feel on their own when it comes to dealing with mental health problems.

11. There needs to be a drive to improve working conditions across the music industries and enhance understanding of the challenges faced by creative workers.

12. More work is required to explore how discrimination, sexism and diversity impact on the working climate for musicians.

As I sit and reflect on these findings, I ask myself: how many musicians and creatives do I know that suffer from more than half of these symptoms? How many are aware?

This leads me to conclude albeit in a flippant and simplistic way that the difference between the creatives that make it and to those that almost make it, is primarily mental health.

This is the question that always comes up after a few drinks and watching a great performance or listening to an amazing set by an artist, “…but how come he is not as famous as…”, “…this guy should be having all the money in the world, this life is not fair…” and many more similar questions that lead to temporary empathy.

My answer from today is:

The talented are pure at heart. The great are pure at heart and mind.

BUT

…with all these examples of troubled and tortured souls, why would anybody want to be a creative and if they are prone to suffer (up to three times more from mental health than the average man).

What is the alternative? Who is the non-creative and how do they live?

The quest is on.

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