The link between mental health and creativity
Problems with mental health range from common issues, such as depression and anxiety, to rarer disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar. Lots of people are affected, either personally or taking care of others but I’ve noticed that it is more apparent in the creative industries.
Creatives are extra sensitive and can be volatile. The same personality types are found in every sector but compared to banking, law, or hospitality, being measured by your quirks and passion is encouraged in the arts and rewarded rather than suppressed.
Caging freedom limits creativity but the opposite is also true, being manic or hypersensitive can unbalance an individual. It’s an extreme and depressing example which was fuelled by drug addiction but I can’t help thinking about the artist Amy Winehouse. Her fragility only seemed to validate her talent and perversely made her more attractive and successful. I watched the documentary Amy and tried to understand her story of self-destruction, she was clearly talented but her passion and intensity could also work against her. There’s a tension which is fascinating and compelling for both artist and admirers. The film questions the choices she made and the people who supported her, it wasn’t clear if she was encouraged to fly too high or lost control.
Today at least one in six workers experience mental health problems at work, it is common but kept secret. People feel they need to hide depression and anxiety from their bosses, whilst employees are productive they go unchecked. Increased stress is a key factor for triggering health problems yet the reward is given for doing more with less, working faster and taking on responsibilities above and beyond.
Whilst mental health remains a taboo subject many people will feel scared and confused about confronting the issue. Standing out takes bravery, you invite unwanted attention. People are quick to judge and being labeled with having problems, especially in a corporate environment, shuts out opportunity.
Different work environments and professions can have varying impacts on our levels of stress. To maintain a healthy and productive working role, it’s important to feel that you have control over your work as far as possible and that you understand the demands of your job, whatever that might be. Other important factors include the support you receive from managers and colleagues and how the company manages change in the workplace.
This will sound familiar to parents but if we want to encourage people to take risks they’ll need to know that someone will be there to catch them if they fall. They’ll also need to start trusting themselves.
I’ve worked with all sorts of organisations; corporate worlds, bits of government, owner or family-run companies and I’ve seen a variety of models of management and cultures. In comparison the creative industries enjoy more freedom than most, there is rule-breaking and individuality is prized. It’s great to be in that space but I am also sensitive to the pressures and different ways of working for clients, other disciplines and sectors.
Working with fast-moving tech teams who like to iterate and need to be constantly challenged is different from risk-averse clients who need constant reassurance and want things right the first time.
Making sure the boat doesn’t get rocked and that the end product will be watertight means extra checks and steering a safer course. Sailing close to the wind or venturing into uncharted waters will take you to new and exciting places but it takes faith and preparation.
Generally, employees are being asked to take on more responsibility and in doing so find ways to safeguard themselves. Greater autonomy is given so that we are encouraged to make better, bolder decisions but we need a framework and an understanding of the rules. We also need an understanding of what kind of support we need from others. It’s useful to get a perspective on things but becoming self-aware takes time, you need to be watchful and look out for patterns of behaviour. Identifying your own strengths and weaknesses.
The most common causes of stress and mental health issues include increased work intensity, less job security, less autonomy, target-driven work cultures, bullying, and harassment.
If you start to notice the following warning signs, then it’s time to get some support. Talk to your doctor and to your manager or the HR department, who can explore options on how to proceed. Warning signs and symptoms include:
- Decreased concentration and memory
- Difficulty in decision making
- Thoughts of escape
- Lack of objectivity
- Weight fluctuation
- Headaches, digestive disorders, and chest pains
- Sleep disturbance and fatigue
- Repetitive thinking
- Negative thinking
- Frustration and irritability
- Increased use of substances
- Taking risks with your health
- Working late or early, or missing work because of stress
- Nervousness, fear or sadness
It’s not clear who is liable when people burn out or break down. Businesses have a duty of care, a moral and legal obligation to ensure the well-being of their people. It’s easy to identify fault when someone falls off an unsecured ladder. Safeguarding physical health is accepted as normal but eating apples, drinking plenty of water and a free yoga class doesn’t help balance feelings of crushing responsibility or lack of support. It’s vital that we do more to look after each other and collectively thrive. That’s what humanity is all about.
These extracts are taken from a book I’ve written about exploring the creative spirit. If you’d like to read more get in touch: email@example.com
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