Working in the arts, though rewarding and enriching, can take its toll on your mental health. Whether you’re an artist, performer, curator, programmer, or facilitator; whether you work in a studio, gallery, office or venue; whether you consider yourself disabled, abled, neurodivergent, neurotypical, a self-carer, a mental health systems user or survivor, or none of the above - in honour of Mental Health Awareness Week our team have put together their best tips on how to care for your mental health, and that of others, when working in the creative sector. Add your own in the comments!

Sara: “Often we’re working in the arts without formal structures like an HR department, and it can be difficult to make your requirements and triggers known, or to know what support is available to you. We need to be more open about mental health in the arts - talk about it more within the industry so that people feel that they have a safe space where they can share their needs, and talk about how they’re feeling. Sometimes the hardest thing is saying to someone- “I’m having trouble” or “I need help”, but I have found that the best people are always kind and generous.”

Emily: “I think trying to find supportive groups to be involved with is really important - I was personally quite inspired by the Q-Art open crit event we held at the Shape Open that offered a more relaxed way of critiquing work.”

Isabella: “For me the monotony of the art world - the less glamourous side of a job in the arts, where you still have lots of admin to do and the sometimes slow process of getting elements sorted before the big flashy exhibitions can become reality - are the bits I find the hardest and they can take a really heavy toll on my mental state. It’s that down time and lull in activity I sometimes find much harder as I feel much less productive and self-confident, and the ability to keep my head above water becomes much harder. Making an effort to keep an even, busy workload, rather than one that bounces between extremes of overwhelming and dormant, is key.”

Marcus: “I find that keeping a mood-board works great for me in helping me to think in a more abstract way that suits my mind. It can remind you more of your creative potential, as it can be a struggle trying to search for the right idea or prospect of where to go if you are an artist, creative or have interest in the arts - for me it removes self-doubt and gives me a clearer mind-set!”

Sarah: “Often artists are working as freelancers, which can mean working all hours 7 days a week which is emotionally exhausting. I found it's really important to allocate set times in the week where you don't check your emails, don't pick up the phone, and basically don't think about work related stuff. You can make people you're working with aware that you'll be 'off the radar' for these specific times - so it doesn't slow down work. It sounds insignificant, but I think it's vital to get away from it all for a while, and you'll be more productive and focussed when you come back to it.”

Andrew: “Deaf people, like myself, are twice as likely to experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety compared to hearing people. This is mainly down to communication issues - in the arts, that means not being able to participate in things like art events, noisy private views, and talks because of a lack of access adjustments. Deaf people often find it hard to access support or afford Sign Language interpreters, especially considering the austerity which has led to heavy access funding cuts across the UK, which excludes us from opportunities to network, meet new people and develop ourselves as artists and can take a real emotional toll. We all need to collectively remind arts organisers that they need to consider access requirements and make sure they’re adhering to the Equality Act, whether it is just for one person or a group.”

Sara: “Sometimes I find my practice can be really isolated, and isolating, so it’s really important to remember to schedule in R&R. I often have to force myself to take a break from my work to socialise. Being around friends and family can be the vital link I need when I’m struggling, especially on days when I feel I can’t even get out of bed.”

Lulu: “Working in art is notorious for meaning long hours and low wages. It’s also not just a profession, it’s a lifestyle - you don’t really get to leave work at work at the end of the day, your work is also normally your main hobby or interest, and a lot of social time overlaps with work. I consider having other hobbies that have little or nothing to do with the arts really important so that my brain isn’t overwhelmed by being constantly in work mode, and so I have mental spaces to escape to.”

Fiona: “The arts sector is pretty 24/7 so it’s really important for me to have time off and offline. I choose not to have a smartphone and try to only engage with social media and online communication tools when necessary to avoid information overload!”

Emily: “Balance your time so you can meet others, get away from work, and ensure you’re not isolating yourself is vital, as is structuring time online and on social media. Resist the rabbit hole of endless scrolling and clicks, as maintaining a belief in yourself and your practice is not helped by endless comparisons with others' works online”

Sarah: “I think it can be hard when you're working with someone new and they’re not aware of your access requirements. If you're office-based there's mostly someone to go to talk about this, but as a freelance artist you're unlikely to have the benefit of this support. It's obviously hard to open up sometimes, but if you're going to be working with someone long term, e.g. a producer or editor, you'll need to have a strong working relationship with them and part of that is being open about your mental health, and certain triggers, so that you can work together to avoid these.”

Lulu: “It might not always be possible, but try to get as regular a sleep pattern as you’re able to. Working in the creative sector, you get invited to so many weekday evening events, and many people also work through the night - of course sometimes it’s unavoidable, especially if you’re having to work a ‘day’ job and work on your own practice in your free time, but in my experience it can come at a huge cost in terms of mental wellbeing and spoons so it’s good to think about where your priorities lie. I need to manage my energy levels and mood very carefully and because of this I can’t say yes to every event I’m invited to, no matter how fun or interesting or good for my work they’d be, and much as I’d love to create work and write all through the night it’s just not worth my brain getting frazzled.”

Sara: “It’s so important to be aware of your own triggers, and to learn to prioritise your own mental health. In the arts, we can often work so closely with other people and it can get very personal; it can be hard, but sometimes it’s important to say “I need to step away from this situation for a moment” and go for a walk to clear your head and remove yourself from potentially triggering situations. If you can, be open with your colleagues or friends at work; it can also be helpful to have someone who may pick up on triggers before you do, or might notice when you’re having trouble and can check in to make sure you’re ok.“

Isabella: “I find the pressure of art-related workloads can affect the team morale - if you’ve got a large event to plan, reports to write, as well as a selection of artists to look after all at the same time – it can all get a bit too much. Having a team that you get on with and who can support each other makes the harder moments much easier to get through; when you can chat to figure out how to hang artwork with the resources you’ve got, or when the team supports you when you’ve got high targets for audience figures and are worried about if anyone will come to the exhibition you’ve been working on for 6+ months - it all helps to have compassionate, cheerful support there.”

Sarah: “Join a union! This is especially important if you're freelance because they should be able to tell you what your rights are and support you in the case of problems occurring – knowing you have that support and security is so valuable. The Artists' Union England - www.artistsunionengland.org.uk - is a good one to look into.”

Lulu: The arts is still really inaccessible as an industry, and in organisations and environments where your access needs aren't met or even acknowledged, in my experience at least, it can take an enormous toll on your mental state. The act of disabling someone - by not providing access - is really harmful, and I don't think many people in the arts actually recognise their own complicity in that. It also becomes a vicious cycle: when my access needs aren't met, which is often in the arts, where people frequently reject what they see to be protocol, etiquette and bureaucracy (what accessibility unfortunately gets labelled as far too often), I end up needing more adjustments - it can be really destructive. Maybe helping to make people aware of their complicity is a good way forward by explaining things like this to them.

Marcus: “Working in an arts organisation, I have found that it is extremely helpful to be open with how I feel to the team. For example, when I feel under pressure I will tell them. You don’t have to go into full detail. My point is that creating a sense of familiarity with yourself and your team creates a space where you feel more comfortable, and I would say this reminds others to be accommodating (vice versa too). We must remember too that it’s a human right to fair treatment in the workplace – I am lucky to be working in such an inclusive, creative, environment with Shape so this practice is in tune.”

#MHAW17

We offer affordable access audits and Disability Equality Training for arts and cultural organisations looking to become more accessible and open up fully to disabled people as artists, audiences and workers. Click here to find out more!


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