Artists and creative people alike deal with a lot of emotional instability and stressors that could lead to an increase in mental health symptoms. As someone who considered herself a creative person, it was not easy pursuing something that others thought was a waste of time or not financially lucrative.
Jackie Benavente, LMFT
I remember deciding in my early 20s that I was going to be a writer. I enrolled in an undergrad creative writing program, and off I went to explore books, solace in writing, and the criticism that’s so necessary as a writer. My mother had no idea what I was doing. Outside of the excitement that I was enrolling in college, the big question, “What are you going to do with a creative writing degree?” was always present. By the time I was obtaining my Masters in Creative Writing, I realized that, I didn’t know what I was going to do with a creative writing degree. I did it because it’s what I loved, and if I was going to study anything, it was writing. Now I was in fight or flight mode. At first I fought; I looked into careers as a writer. I tried to pursue other avenues such as writing music lyrics, writing for magazines, and even working in a big publish house in their sales department. At least I would be around books, I thought. However, as with life, you put the energy in and it leads you to where you really need to be. My plan B ended up being what I truly fell in love with which was the field of psychology.
I recently opened LA Mind and Body in North Hollywood, to offer affordable mental health therapy to the arts community and Spanish-speaking families of the Valley. I’ve created a list of symptoms to be mindful of if you’re an artist and are wondering how you might be affected by stressors and your mental health.
1. Family, friends and loved ones sometimes have a hard time being supportive of a career in the creative or performance arts. “I want to be an actor, dancer, or artist,” is usually received with the comment, “Okay well how are going to make money?” Or this one, “How are you supporting yourself and do you think this is sustainable?” And I get it, it’s a valid question, but it doesn’t feel good to have to defend what makes you happy. Obviously this can start to affect your reactions when someone asks you what you do, and possibly your self-esteem.
2. Feeling every feeling. I’ve worked with many artists who like being manic or depressed. This is VERY common. During these periods of time your mood is obviously unstable. For some artists they report that they feel more creative and it’s easier to paint, write, or to get into character. They’ve learned to use this shift in mood to their favor. The dangers of this, is that a mental health disorder left untreated could worsen. You’re also putting yourself at risk. Mania could also lead to psychosis, a decrease in insight, and engaging in high risk, dangerous behaviors.
3. Financial instability. I think the biggest stressor in life is not having enough money. Many artists have to deal with not knowing whether they’re going to have enough money next week or next month. And not having money for rent, food, gas or daily living takes over everything else. I always tell my clients..How can you work on your most recent stressor, when your worrying about how you’re going to eat or where you’re going to live? It makes sense. Stress could lead to many other issues, including the following: psychosomatic symptoms (back/shoulder pain, eye twitching, stomach ache/nausea), panic attacks, trouble sleeping or eating, trouble focusing, overall feeling jumpy or on edge.
4. Constant rejection or evaluation of your work by auditions, managers, and/or agents. At most jobs we have yearly or sometimes even quarterly reviews of our work. Artists are judged on their work ALL the time. They receive positive or negative praise by their manager or talent agents. The positive reinforcement happens when they secure a job. This constant evaluation could lead to anxiety, depression, stress, and decrease a person’s self-esteem and self-worth.
5. Addiction. Although addiction affects everyone, artists can sometimes be more susceptible due to the following: Lack of structured days. As we know in the addiction world, structure is necessary to help keep people sober, especially early in recovery. As I mentioned earlier, artists who might go untreated due to lack of resources, could use drugs or alcohol to deal with their symptoms. This ties also into how an artist might deal with financial stress or the ups and downs of rejection or criticism.
6. Lack of medical or mental health treatment, due to lack of insurance. We now have Covered California, which is our low-cost medical insurance in California. But, even with medical insurance, mental health treatment is typically not covered. At community clinics, adults are typically offered case management, but not mental health support. There are a lot of programs that artists should be aware of such as the following:
The Actors Fund offers social service support to working artists. www.actorsfund.org
Musicares offers financial and recovery support for musicians. www.grammy.com/musicares
SAMHSA- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This is my go-to, when I’m looking for mental health services or addiction referrals for someone with no insurance, or low income. www.samhsa.gov
Call: (211) - LA County’s free referral source for all health and human services. Get a live person who can help you find a referral to a clinic, food bank or shelter.
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