Why Is Mental Illness So Prevalent Among Creatives?

July 11, 2017

For four years, the best part of each summer was the two weeks I spent at Camp Amped, a summer day camp for teenage musicians run by an Athens, Georgia nonprofit called Nuçi’s Space.

 

 Photos: Vinicius Amano on Unsplash 

 

The Phillips family of Atlanta founded Nuçi’s Space in 1999 in memory of their son, Nuçi, a talented musician and promising University of Georgia student who died by suicide at the age of 22 after his fight against depression. The Space is not only a memorial to Nuçi but also a concert venue, a place for musicians to practice and to rent equipment, and a resource for mentally ill artists to come when they need support.

 

Camp Amped is the Space’s youth program that honors Nuçi by supporting young musicians creatively as well as having open, honest discussions about mental illness, suicide, and self-worth. The conversations provide perspective, support, and hope for those who need it, and awareness for those who might not have known the scope and prevalence of mental illness among those with creative personalities.

 

Some might come away wondering why musicians seem to grapple with these issues more often than others. An exploration of history and science reveals that all creative occupations – defined as scientific and artistic fields – seem predisposed to depression, addiction, or a related psychological disorder; the question is, why?

 

71 percent of musicians reported they have experienced anxiety and panic attacks and 65 percent said that they had suffered from depression, while roughly 19 percent of total people over the age of 16 reported struggles with depression, anxiety, or both. Some major reasons the musicians cited include the music industry itself and the inherent "difficulty of sustaining a living, anti-social working hours, exhaustion, and the inability to plan their time/future.”

 

A more introspective factor is creatives’ tendency to weld their art into their own identity and sense of selfhood. A respondent to a survey about mental illness and music reported that it isn’t the music making them sick, but "the lack of things I’d consider success. It’s the lack of support doing something that’s not considered ‘real work." This sentiment suggests that when there is little appreciation for artists’ work – something they often consider to be an extension of their identity – it translates to what they perceive as a blow to their self-worth. These feelings can come from within, too: when an artist is not creating art that they see as perfect or even “good enough,” it can mar their sense of identity.

 

Biologically, the creative brain may also function differently. New research suggests that artists, musicians, writers, dancers, and photographers are 25 percent more likely to carry gene variants leading to certain mental illnesses than the non-creative population. Another study reports that musicians specifically could be up to three times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public, and a final study found that writers exhibited an increased likelihood of diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, anorexia nervosa, and suicide.

 

This science reflects a different reality than society’s romanticized idea of a “tortured creative soul.” Emotional instability is neither glamorous nor necessary for creativity, though many cling to a glorified perception of mental illness as advantageous for artists. 54.8 percent of musicians surveyed feel that “there is a gap in the provision of services for musicians,” and 46.6 percent said they wanted to see a dedicated counselling service specifically for musicians.

 

Athens’ musicians are lucky to have Nuçi’s Space providing exactly that. If other communities step up and emulate their efforts, the creative world could quickly become a better, healthier place.

 

 

To support Nuçi’s Space, click here.

 

Emily Rose is 17 years old and from Athens, Georgia. Beginning in fall 2017, she will attend Mercer University. She plans to double major in Journalism and Political Science and to minor in Global Development Studies. She is a writer, musician, activist, and feminist who hopes to use her platforms to inspire positive change by providing different perspectives on the world’s political and social issues.

 

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