There is a portion of society that tends to have a dangerous misconception that all artists’ derive their creativity from their immense pain. All humans endure struggles and difficulties in life that can inspire artwork; however, it can be perceived that artists have a stronger and more consistent presence of struggles and that is why they are able to create great art.
It isn’t difficult to understand where this concept may have risen. According to a 2014 study by Help Musicians UK, more than half of the musicians that participated had experienced depression or other psychological issues. In comparison, only about 18.4% of US adults experience a mental illness and even less (4%) experience a mental illness that interferes with their activities. Based on these statistics, it isn’t farfetched to think that there is a higher concentration of mental illness and mental health struggles amongst musicians.
Music is the language of emotions and provides a universal platform for communicating the most complex of human emotions to any audience or community. Because of societal stigmas, it can be very difficult to verbalize feelings that that are deep and originate from a negative place. Art, including music, is how most people find a way to communicate these feelings in an effective and socially acceptable manner; therefore, turning to art to help them express emotions that they are afraid to have conversations about. This may lead to the concept that because a person is struggling or experience a mental illness that they can create great art, but I promise that is not the case.
This issue draws the question: which came first, the artist or the sadness? This question ties closely with artists that struggle with their mental health and how these struggles may affect (or contribute to) their artwork. If you follow the logic of “artists are sad and that is why they can create such great art,” then an artist with mental illness would ruin their potential for creating new impactful artwork by seeking mental health treatment, which is incredible unhealthy and completely untrue. In reality, art requires a creative mind (along with hours of hardwork and dedication) and can exist perfectly fine without the presence of mental illness or excessive mental health struggles. An artist exists before or alongside a mental illness and will continue to exist and thrive after treatment or recovery. There is never a “because of” when discussing how an artist is related to their mental illness and struggles.
The point of this discussion is to drive home that Mental Illness Does Not Create Your Art. You and your art exist beyond mental illness and seeking treatment will not only benefit your mental health, but also help you grow as a person, as a friend, and as a creative. Caring for our artists and caring for our musicians is how we ensure that they have every opportunity to thrive and grow in their careers. And to anyone, creative or otherwise, your mental illness does not define you or structure your limits, and, with the help of a strong support system, you can learn how to live alongside your illness and determine what you will allow yourself to achieve.