Happy World Mental Health day! Notes for Artists whom I love

Happy world Mental Health day! It’s been reassuring to see so many posts about mental health awareness on my social media feeds. May we continue to talk about it, to challenge the stigma and combat isolation.

Discussions around mental health have never been so important and I thought this would be a good day to post some notes I took from POP Montreal’s recent panel discussion on ‘Burnout and Mental Health in the Music Industry’.

As an artist, I’m keenly aware of my mental health and the challenges I face on a daily basis by choosing to follow the less-than-conventional career path. Financial insecurity, late nights, fear of disapproval and working round-the-clock to perform various roles (booker, promoter, band leader, manager, oh…and singer-songwriter etc. etc.) inevitably cause stress. And that’s at the ‘unknown artist’ level.

We’ve got romantic notions about artists living (and dying) for their art but it’s a big loss to the artistic community every time a celebrity artist dies from overdose or suicide. Rather than perpetuating the myth, it’s a relief to see that there’s been a spark of awareness around artists’ mental health in the mainstream and for people to be putting two-and-two together in terms of the industry and lifestyle. So, for my fellow artists, here are my top takeaways from the discussion.

  1. Art is NOT an emergency (perspective)
  2. Exhaustion and burnout = result of structural violence (exclusion, racism, oppression, gatekeepers, 1%)
  3. For black artists: how does one find radiance (outside the structural violence)?
  4. Strong obligation to create healthy workplace.
  5. Need to combat neutrality and silence.

Coping strategies:

  1. Create boundaries (no checking phone before bed, no emails, nothing is that urgent, prioritize personal time)
  2. Prioritizing (set a manageable timeline)
  3. Selfish is not a bad word, have to take care of yourself first!
  4. Don’t make yourself so available.
  5. Extend the ecology of your practices (go to other cities! Find and connect with your communities across the world.)
  6. Get involved. Isolation = part of the downward spiral. Get involved in organizations with likeminded peers. Create the community YOU want!
  7. Seek recognition and support from people in your immediate environment. Create supportive community around you.
  8. Self forgiveness: give yourself credit!
  9. Set time to figure out weekly priorities, acknowledge you can’t do everything and decide how you work around that.
  10. We never have enough time! (Acceptance)
  11. Being HERE. (Seek ways to extend your time and find presence. E.g. yoga, meditation, breathing exercises).
  12. Mindfulness (find times when you don’t think about work, when you’re in the moment of whatever you’re doing)
  13. Divide work so a) people have equal work b) people have only the work they can handle.
  14. Don’t let other people’s chaos become yours too.
  15. Can be hard to focus throughout day. Allocate small amounts of time throughout day to focus on one thing at a time.
  16. Where does your primal love for making art come from?
  17. Have lots of projects: more projects you have going, the less personal any rejection/criticism feels.
  18. What does success look like for me? What does the world I want to live in look like for me? Learn to look outside institutional benchmarks.

Thanks to the speakers: James Oscar (anthropologist, arts writer), Bob Sleppy (Exec Director of Nuci’s Space, Greece), Jes Skolnik (writer, editor, musician), Natasha Parish (booking agent, Flowerbooking), Rhyna Thompson (Founder & President of Envision Mgmt) and POP Montreal Symposium.