Stop ‘The Arts’ Stigma For Mental Health

Stop the Arts Stigma for Mental Health

Being creative. It’s innate. Then why is there a stigma surrounding ‘creativity’ and ‘being creative’, especially in relation to mental health? And what impact does that have on access and support from the young person’s perspective?

Recently I found myself exploring this question more, after a conference I hosted exploring the arts and mental health regarding young people. When asking young people about the limitations in accessing the arts, and how it has impacted their mental health; the topic aroused a collective response of stigma surrounding the word ‘creativity’ and ‘arts’ as a whole.

My personal fascination with art and mental health, stems from my own experiences of how cathartic and beneficial art was (and still is) a vital lifeline for my mental health. This has flourished over time to include music, photography and other creative outlets. I even went so far as to explore creativity and mental health in my final year dissertation studying Counselling. 

My panel of inspiring young people, navigated a conversation full to the brim with personal experiences and individual journeys of education. There was a notion that to be ‘creative’, was to place a veil upon the arts, because some (and many, as I find out…) feel that to be creative, is to narrow the arts down to stereotypical subjects, where only the outwardly creative could draw the curtain back on.  

So…What Is Creativity?

When we talk about creativity, an over-arching word which loosely describes, well, pretty much everything a human being is- is stereotypically seen as ‘art, music and drama’ related careers from a young person’s perspective. The dictionary term is ‘the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.’

Inventiveness, can be argued as being an innate part of the human condition. So…’creativity’ is just part of us all. Cognitive processes, expression, the ‘creation’ of anything from thought.

As a young person, we associate this with the stereotypical ‘drama kids’ or the ‘art kids’ from our initial experiences of ‘creativity’ in an educational setting. The creative subjects rounded up as expressive, exclusive and separate entity based on talent. However, there’s creativity in everything we do. Absolutely everything. We need to re-evaluate how we can bring ‘the arts’ into every subject, and every part of our lives.

Identity & Expression

From a young age, we look at our identity and fall into social groups that support us in defining our strongest traits. When I was at school, I associated myself with the ‘arts and drama kids’, where most of the classrooms dedicated to creative subjects clustered into one corridor. 

We see young people utilising these subjects to openly reveal themselves, delve into worlds that are subjective and expressive. What happens to young people who feel they don’t stereotypically ‘fit in’ to these educational subjects? What happens when these young people struggle with their mental health, and feel disassociated with how the ‘arts’ can benefit them?

When I put ‘arts’ into inverted commas, it is to question the ideas surrounding what the arts represents for us as individuals. My personal thought, is that it encompasses creativity in all its forms. From drama and art all the way to technology, engineering and business. 

Where traditional forms of therapy can restrict some who experience mental health problems, the process of art therapy bypasses the speech-language issue with the brain. And not even in the ‘art therapy’ sense, but in every part of our lives. The act of creation, externally captures thought, feeling…emotion. 

As the Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry Report states, “The conundrum that we have found ourselves pondering is why, if there is so much evidence of the efficacy of the arts in health and social care, it is so little appreciated and acted upon.

It embodies everything, and is the most inclusive part of ourselves we should all dip into. Every human being benefits from experiencing this.

We need to change the perceptions of what being ‘creative’ is and what ‘the arts’ encapsulates. 

Keepin’ Up or Keeping It Real?

Am I keeping up or keeping it real?

Brandishing the mental health blogger brush within the social media realm, has allowed me to explore my outlook on wellbeing to the many. I even have the opportunities to discuss my journey in workshops, panels, events and every time I do a pop up with my business Keep Real.

I submerge myself in mental health news, keeping up with the latest articles and wonderful folk who are fighting stigma and openly discussing the topic more. Lately however, I forget to look at my own mental health when I am focused on finding everything out about everyone else. The constant need to feel updated.

This past week, I got-to thinkin’. Am I ‘keeping up’ or am I ‘keeping it real’? Priding myself on the brand I have created, has given me permission to explore its true meaning, and why two years ago I needed to create an extension of my ethos to stay true for mental health. 

According to Online Lang Dictionary, to ‘keep it real’ means “to stay true to one’s self; to resist the temptation to be fake.”. My brand/ ethos literally hits the nail on the head right there. So why do I feel lost in my own manifesto?

Recently, I dropped my phone into a toilet (pre-wee thank goodness), to which it never repaired (bet you didn’t think this would be my revelation story!). The journey of not having sustained access to all the news, the latest, the messages and scrolling habits- literally sunk to the bottom of the bowl in a mighty *th-lunk*. 

My reaction to not having a phone, was yes, inconvenient. My first thoughts (to my surprise) was not ‘Holy moly! I have to update my instagram/ twitter! How can I possibly scroll through the internet now?!’. It was a concern for safety…and my online train tickets I couldn’t retrieve. For the 5 days without it, I didn’t feel as upset as I thought I would be. 

The journey of not having sustained access to all the news, the latest, the messages and scrolling habits- literally sunk to the bottom of the bowl in a mighty *th-lunk*. 

The largest inconvenience of not having any digital communication, was while I was sat on a delayed train for 4 hours trying to get into Leeds. I even asked the train guard to borrow their phone, who looked at me in utter disbelief when I asked, ‘Excuse me, I don’t have a phone, may I borrow yours so I can ring my work?’. No technology to hand? Sacrilegious. 

I tend to back away from my phone a lot during a commute, with a priority to reading (currently it’s Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker) and going through my filofax diary. You know…trying to keep it real.

I had surprised myself in my innate response to the lack of a personal device. We are so accustomed to accessing all the information, all of the time. No one forgot about me. No one cared that I didn’t update my social platforms. The only important things I couldn’t do, concerned my work and peace of mind if I needed immediate help. Not social media, not ‘keeping up’ like I thought.

Remembering why ‘Keep Real’ exists, eliminates that fear within that I have to keep up. I do what I do now, because I’m proud to navigate reality and the digital world within my small strides. 

We are so accustomed to accessing all the information, all of the time.

Having your own pace, is so important. Being a self-employed ‘go-getter’ if you will, does not mean I have to keep pushing to know more, do more, be more. Neither should you.

Keepin’ it real suits me fine. 

I’m hosting a Mental Health MOT & Mindset Workshop with Scrivener, Wednesday 5th June at Leeds Postal Service! FREE tickets here

Retail & Mental Health

Working in retail this time last year, really affected my mental health. Having now experienced this year not working in a retail environment after 5-6 years of doing so, has made me realise how deeply it affected me. But you can get through this. Here’s how.

If you’re working in retail right now, you’ll be doing the Black Friday slog and the run up to Christmas. It’s peak time, you’ll be working more hours to keep the store running and obeying the inpatient demands of the general public. You’ll get the lovely regulars with a mix of extremely inpatient customers- but all in all, the magic of Christmas can be beautiful…yet for some, very hard to enjoy. 

Image by Suzanne Wright Photographer

Customer service is rewarding, and building those relationships can be some of the best parts to the retail world. Every job comes with its trials and tribulations, but when you work in retail- you don’t really have the option to take time off during the busiest part of the year, or the option to not smile and have a bad day. So when your mental health is suffering, what options do you have?

I loved where I used to work and I still love them. I have learned that my mental health deteriorated in the slope to Christmas, and even though the end of the year is always the most magical, it is also one of the most stressful and in my experience, the hardest to get through. I remember one specific night two years ago, leaving from a late night, and literally running and crying all the way home because I just wanted to curl up and have a day off.  It was raining, I was tired after getting a 2 hour commute home and I ran the last part home. RAN. Then I woke up at 5am the next day to do it all over again.


So What Can You Do?

Share your concerns with your Manager. Let one of your superiors know how you feel, whether that’s your supervisor, floor manager or whoever. Tell a colleague, but remember you need the right support from your employer. They’ll be able to see what they can do for you. Also remember, they are human! They are working in retail at the busiest and most stressful time of the year. Stick together and ask questions like, “Hey, I wondered if you had time at all this morning or later in the day for a quick chat?”, “I’d love to run something by you in private, if you have time today?”. Even if they can give you a quick 10 minutes in the back when it’s becoming too much- as long as they are aware…you’re in safer hands. Don’t struggle in silence.

If you need a mental health day…take one. To do a good job, be productive and also be a wonderful part of the team- you need to take care of yourself. Being at work and knowing you’re not feeling your best, isn’t helping yourself or any of your colleagues…that’s both physically or mentally. Try not to feel guilty (I’m with you on trying/failing at that!). Your best self is a cared for self. Take the time you need.

Christmas is a mush. Give your mental health some structure. You may be working long as heck hours, different shift patterns and days can pass in a stressful blur. Making a note of how you feel can be really important in trying to track what you’re going through mentally. Assign colours to different moods (blue- ok day, yellow-happy/smooth day, black- terrible day etc) and see if you can spot some patterns. The Mental Health Foundation have some great tools on how to support mental health at work. 

Know your rights. This is so important. If you feel you’re being treated unfairly by your employer, know that you have a right to challenge discrimination. Time To Change set this out clearly and can signpost you to the correct services, especially when it comes to legal stuff and action to take. Unsure of what the Equality Act covers? You can check out the types of discrimination here on Mind’s website.


It’s hard to keep happy during the Christmas period, just know you are not alone in feeling that way. Please check out Keep Real’s list of careline that are available.