Counsel the Creatives: Mental Health in the Creative Community
a journal entry
A few months ago I promised myself never to live the romanticized life of the ‘tortured artist.’
The tragedy itself is thought to be beautiful, but the act of seeing beauty in tragedy isn’t. The
lifestyle encourages us to live a state of melancholia by choice until we embody melancholia. I
was once okay with quiet suffering, grappling at life through the scope of unchecked mental
health issues. I don’t want to live that way anymore, I want to be happy. Before denouncing the
trauma I experienced as my identity, I wanted to write solely from the perspective of a broken
version of myself, but that only stunted my personal growth as a writer. Still, It took years to
undo the habit of reducing myself to sad stories. Now I know, and I mean I really know, and
understand that there is more.
Art is great for healing, I believe that. Creative work is a great way to reconcile with traumatic
experiences. I get that, but, mental unrest shouldn't be a prerequisite for creation. And what's an
artist supposed to do when they are so overcome with symptoms of mental illness, the ability to
create anything disappears? No one is immune from experiencing mental health disorders in
their lifetime but there’s a significant presence of mental illness within creative communities in
particular. Theories on what perpetuates the link between mental illness and creative people are
abundant. Speculators have blamed the creative person’s vulnerability, eccentricities, and
desire to isolate themselves on perpetuating mental health disorders. I’m not a professional and
maybe this holds some truth, but we can’t ignore all other factors that contribute to poor mental
The lack of funding for the arts and creative endeavors in schools and in our communities is a
depressing reality to face on its own. Plus, race, place in the LGBTQIA community, economic
class, and gender all affect our mental and emotional health. It’s easy to disregard mental health
issues when you're focused on navigating the world as a person marginalized by society. It's no
wonder why we channel pain as inspiration for art; at worst it's the only feeling to pull from, at
best we dig up pain to release it by incorporating it into our work.
Music for survival.
They candidly spoke about using music as a coping mechanism during and after traumatic experiences. We, consumers of their craft, listened compassionately to the music out of respect for its meaning and the artist behind it.
Pictured above: Kei Slaughter performs at the Mental Health Music Showcase at Three Keys
I wonder how the public's consumption of art affects the artist: After spending countless hours
pouring their heart into their craft, let's imagine the creative person finally produces work they
are proud of. They become visible in ways they may not have been ready for, their work
becomes a subject of criticism. The artist might thrive when attention is on them and collapse
under pressure. Social media makes it easy to repost, copy, and reproduce work from up and
coming artists without ever giving credit where it is rightfully and morally due.
How are we supporting the artist after they've been completely consumed by us? I’m relieved
there are collectives and programs available to support creatives, and they continue to surface
throughout the country. There’s The Art Therapy Outreach Center serving at-risk youth and
victims of domestic violence, the KIND Institute offers after-school arts programs for kids, and
the Laundromat Project in Harlem is an inclusive organization engaging with artists from the
local community. I love the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, it created an inclusive outreach program for people within creative communities called, You Got This. The program focuses on
suicide prevention and connecting people to clinically effective self-care resources. The New
Orleans Musicians Clinic joined forces with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to
unite artists living with mental health issues through peer-to-peer education programs and
events. The last collaboration resulted in a showcase where artists performed original music
and spoke candidly about using their talents as coping mechanisms during and after dark times.
Music for survival.
I do the work it takes to debunk the lies I’ve told myself, especially the lies that say my trauma,
compulsive disorder, and anxiety create my identity. My existence is more complex than that.
True creativity, to me, is an emotional, spiritual, and pragmatic take on the human experience
as a whole, our perspectives should be given the chance to be expressed in its rawest form.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and New Orleans Musicians Clinic came together for a Mental Health Music Showcase days before the start of Essence Fest.
New Orleans Musicians Clinic created an inclusive outreach program for people within creative communities called, You Got This. The program focuses on suicide prevention and connecting people to clinically effective self-care resources. NAMI and N.O. Musicians Clinic are strengthening the community of artists living with mental health issues with peer-to-peer education programs and events. Artists from the showcase performed original music in a dark venue, dimly lit by small candles on tabletops. The setting was... romantic, intimate, and vulnerable. The musicians were present in body and mind which in turn demanded the attention of the audience. They all spoke candidly about using music as a coping mechanism during and after traumatic experiences. We, consumers of their craft, listened compassionately to the music out of respect for its meaning and the artist behind it. Music for survival. Another trend among the artists was acknowledging the importance of support from their chosen families and band-mates. Creatives who come together to validate each other's experiences with mental illnesses is liberation. They can see a reflection of Self in the success of their peers and show compassion when needed- slowly shedding the feel of isolation and building trust.
Resources for (creative) people who could use some help cultivating mental wellness.
As found on New Orleans Musician Clinic / You Got This
Crisi Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the US with any type of crisis, at any time
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8225)
Trans Lifeline Hotline: 877-565-8860
Trevor Project 24/7 Hotline: Staffed by transgender people to aid transgender people's well-being 866-488-7386
BeyondNow Suicide Safety Planning Tool: A tool for creating a suicide safety plan, it outlines ways to known and handle warming signs, identifying reasons to live, create a list of compassionate supportive people in your live, professional support, and more. Click here for more information and forlinks to download the apps on iTunes and GooglePlay
National Alliance on Mental Illness - the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization. They educate and advocate for millions of Americans living with mental illnesses. You can also reach them by calling their HelpLine, Mon-Fri 10-6PM EST, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). Click here for an even longer list of their resources and recommendations for more organizations and hotlines for assistance.