Exploring Depression and Mental Health In The Arts Sector

Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are 
having suicidal thoughts, please contact The Friendship Bench on +263 78 484 5294,
S.A.L.T Africa, +263 773 107 7781, For Youths By Youths, Harare & Mash West 
263775462468 +263773238941, Ruwa Rehabilitation Centre +263273790238

HAVE you ever come across artwork or literature of the sad clown? The sad clown is one of the most well-known paintings out there and is a paradox that tries to bring out the hidden emotional trauma and sadness that is associated with clowns even though they make it their daily business to bring smiles to our faces.

By Michael Gwarisa

Outwardly, like clowns, artistes appear to be the happiest beings and yet inside, they are battling a myriad of monsters. Artistes spend their days making people dance, entertained, sing along, laugh and at times even inspire people to do better and yet at the end of every show, they go home where at times they feel sad, lonely and useless. Unfortunately, all those who laughed at their jokes, who danced to their music might never know if anything is wrong.

The arts sector is very broad and may comprise of musicians, actors and comedians, Journalists, writers and many others and all are susceptible to mental health challenges. South Africa is still gripped and mourning the passing on of Rapper, Rikhado Muziwendlovu Makhado also known as Ricky Rick. His death comes hot on the heels of the death of Patrick Shai, a renowned actor.

These are not the only ones who have died to suicide as other big names in the global entertainment industry have also died by the same. Tim Bergling known as Avicci committed suicide while on holiday in Musacat, Oman. In Zimbabwe we have had the likes of great names such as Biggie Tembo and prolific writer, Dambudzo Marechera also taking their own lives.

In as much as mental health and suicide affects everyone, it seems more men are prone to committing suicide as compared to females. The same applies in the arts sector, more male artistes seem to be ready to take their own lives compared to their female counterparts. Official statistics and research studies have found that there are a number of gender differences in suicide. These differences are known as the gender paradox of suicide. While women are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, for example, men are much more likely to take their own lives.

For artistes, there are plenty of suicide triggers and according to Zimbabwe’s leading psychologist and mental health expert, Dr Kudakwashe Mchena, the signs are always there for the artistes but unfortunately, no one takes artistes seriously when they give hints or show signs of depression or mental health challenges.

I want to speak about men and male artistes in particular. I think the notion that men don’t cry is a myth that needs to be dealt with and thrown away because men suffer the same emotional stress that women also suffer. Fortunately, women get attention and they can easily seek treatment. Men are told not to cry because crying is a weakness and mental health will continue to be the greatest killer for men because of that idea that anything that is emotional is a sign of weakness,” said Dr Mchena.

He added that the mental health pressure doubles for artistes because artistes thrive on perceptions, ego and the fact that artistes enjoy being pampered and being at the center of the stage and everyone looks at them and thinks they have arrived or archived so much in life.

“In that case then, no one takes seriously of their mental health issues and this causes a lot of mental health pressures. They have pressure to perform, they have pressure to live up to their expectations and pressure to compete with others in their field and that makes it very difficult for them to live a mentally health lifestyle.

“You look at the case of Ricky Rick, a lot of people will be surprised and say we don’t expect him to commit suicide but they don’t know what he has been going through because during the time that he has been going through challenges, no one wanted to pay attention to him, no one wanted to listen to him. Even he himself might not have wanted to seek help and ended up committing suicide.”

He added that these challenges and pressures was a familiar script amongst most men in high demanding carriers where society expects them to excel beyond comprehension. These include male artistes, male in academia, men who are pastors, lawyers or other professions that society highly regards.

“Those men don’t have anywhere to cry or anyone to cry with. They suffer in silence and their solution at the end of the day becomes suicide and it’s so bad. We need to push and advocate mental health amongst men to become something that a lot of people take seriously whether in church, in government or in society. Men’s mental health should be a priority because a lot of men will die in silence,” said Dr Mchena.

Other factors also play a huge role in influencing behavior and how artistes react to suicidal thoughts. The advent of social media as much as it is blessing also has its negative side to the mental health of artistes. Even though social media is an important tool for promoting the musician, at times it puts artistes under immense pressure to maintain a perfect online presence and this in turn impacts their mental health.

Any habitual social media user will be able to relate to the construct of perfection that many platforms encourage. Numerous studies confirm that users feel an insurmountable pressure to present their lives as seemingly perfect and idealised. Unsurprisingly, much empirical evidence indicates that such perfectionist behaviors incite jealousy, constant self-comparison, and increased levels of depression and anxiety.

On the other hand, art and creativity can be a positive outlet for people in mental distress, with art therapy increasingly prescribed for victims of trauma. Research has found that writing about painful past events may even temporarily boost one’s immune system. Artistes can take advantage of the fame and following they have on social media to vent and let out that which is bothering them inside.

Since art can be healing, people with mood disorders may instinctively turn to art to help themselves cope or heal.





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