This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, so I wanted to take the opportunity to share some thoughts and help to spread the word.
I am no expert in this field at all, so please do bear in mind these are just my thoughts and experiences. I am proud to be a patron for a mental health organization and it is an area I am very passionate about exploring and supporting. I have been surrounded by people with mental health conditions my whole life and in the past twelve months alone, I have known twelve people who have committed suicide – yes, sadly one a month – and I would estimate at least 70% of my friends suffer from varying degrees of depression. And that was before the lockdown.
The Jazz industry is no stranger to mental health concerns and in fact, the creative industry, as a collective, has been rife with a whole range of artists struggling with their mental health throughout its history. The creative mind is a fascinating and complex one and the ‘tortured artist’ as a concept, seems to have been defined during the romantic period by the likes of the poet Lord Byron in the 1800s:
“We of the craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.”
The link between the so-called creative mind and mental health has been much discussed and although there has been some research in this area, there is still so much more to explore. Whilst we cannot deny there is a pattern, it seems to just be accepted that if you are a ‘creative’ you are probably a little bit crazy. But that is the first part of the problem. Crazy. What does that mean? People seem to define this word in different ways and some care should really be taken with this word. Someone called me eccentric the other day and it actually really annoyed me. I reflected on this, a lot, and came to the conclusion that this comment was based on a lack of understanding of what the creative world – and its people – are about. Eccentric to me, would be to ride through London, to do my food shopping, on a Tiger. In a ballgown. Perhaps with a brass band. (ok, so I am now thinking that would be a great idea) Eccentric, to some people is actually just being able to get up on a stage and perform in front of hundreds of people. I am often called one of those ‘crazy creative types’ and I know many artists that are referred to in the same way. But there is a big difference in being perhaps a little – or a lot – extraverted and having a mental health condition.
I think that one of the fundamental elements is that, we, as in ‘creatives’ are affected by things in a different way. We feel things in a different way. Our emotional connection is actually inexplicable, and it is, in fact, part of its beauty. The Art and the Artist are as one and often cannot be separated. As musicians, as writers, as artists, we understand this, but it is often people outside of this that sometimes lack the understanding. How can we expect a non-musician to understand how a chord sequence or groove makes us feel? Or how the stretch of an arm to a dancer feels like an extension of their soul? Art is all about how we feel – both for the creator, the performer and in turn the audience.
Since the lockdown, I have been so very worried about my fellow musicians and friends. So many people are struggling and the ‘it’ll get better’ I imagine, is getting annoying, although difficult to know what else to say. We don’t know what is going to happen and we don’t know how we will come out of this current situation. But the world needs music and it needs creative arts. The first thing we turn to in our time of need, is the Arts and it is there and always will be. People are dealing with the lockdown in different ways. Some are live streaming events and coffee chats and showing us all that we can still communicate and connect with the world and that we are not only ploughing through but being innovative. Some choose to rant about the government and the political state of play. What this all shows us, is that we are still alive and kicking, which is incredible and inspirational to many. What does concern me, is the people who are not communicating, the people who have stopped posting on social media; the people who are not on social media that I used to see when we were allowed outside. I have noticed many people that seem to have disappeared. There, of course, may well be perfectly good reasons for this, but how do we know?
Out of the devastating suicides I have known to have happened in the past year, I would estimate half were people who were known to have suffered from some form of depression. The other half came out of nowhere. I was and still am filled with guilt. For those that I knew were suffering, I wonder if I could have done something to help and feel that surely, I could have helped in some way. For those I did not know about, I feel I should have known they were suffering, surely, I should have seen the signals? My understanding is that these feelings are normal after losses like these.
In my experience, people commit suicide because they feel they have no value anymore and that their lives are just not worth living. It is heartbreaking to think that anyone would feel so low. We must ensure people are valued and know their worth. So how can we help people who are struggling with depression? This is the main point of this article. We mustn’t let people we care about feel they are alone. As a creative, I personally believe there is a part of us that is always ‘alone’ and in this time of isolation, this silence can be deafening. But and this is a big but, we are actually alone, together at the moment and there is huge comfort and positivity in that.
The Mental Health Foundation chose kindness as the theme for this year. They said:
‘We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practice to be fully alive.’
Kindness. ‘It doesn’t cost a thing. Sprinkle that shit everywhere’. I don’t know who actually said this, but to me, it sums up so many things and there are so many ways to be kind. A word of encouragement. Sharing someone’s work. Checking in on someone. Saying good morning or good night. If you hear some music that you don’t like, how about you don’t tell everyone on social media how awful you think it is. That would be kind. If you see something that inspires you, share it. If you notice someone has stopped communicating, maybe send a message to say hello. If you see something beautiful, share it, say something. Often a compliment from a stranger can mean more than a compliment from someone you know. Making someone smile has incredible power to lift spirits and wellbeing and helps to make someone feel valued, that they mean something.
We have more time them ever to reflect on what is important to us as individuals but also as part of the global community. I would hope that kindness comes into that reflective thinking. And for those of you (and there are many I am honoured to know) that already sprinkle that ‘kindness s***’ everywhere, thank you for all you do and for the inspiration.
Senior writer: Fiona Ross
Photo credits: Steven Tiller
Last modified: May 18, 2020