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Agencies – mental institutions for creative people?

By IMA on Jul 12, 2018

“Some people see things others cannot, and they are right, and we call them creative geniuses. Some people see things others cannot, and they are wrong, and we call them mentally ill. And some people, like John Nash, are both.” – Nancy C. Andreasen

Creative people are complex beings. They are able to use both sides of the brain to make connections that others wouldn’t normally see to form their next idea. Twenty first century advertising campaigns are consistently walking the line between delivering an outstanding idea or causing uproar after launching an ad in poor taste. Criticism is the very nature of the job, but where do we make the distinction between a great idea and an insane notion?

Mental health in the creative industries

Mental health in the creative industries is being addressed and supported more than ever before. Personally, I have struggled with mental health during my working life. Throughout my research for this article it has given me great solace to discover that creative people’s struggles are not only completely normal, but in some cases, unavoidable.

If you were to profile a stereotypical creative person, you’d find that they are consumed by future oriented thinking. Their minds are constantly deliberating how to improve their work, and often not truly satisfied with the outcome, because they believe it can always be better.

The problem with this model of thinking, however, is that it regularly triggers low levels of dissatisfaction with daily life. Worry consumes the creative minds of the most confident of people. It results in a struggle to focus and sometimes a very poor sleep cycle due to the brain being concretely active conceptualising the next idea.

Some creatives find that this model of thinking is a necessary part of the creative process. Song writers will tell you that the best songs are written in a time of pain and anguish. In fact, Amy Winehouse refused psychiatric help because she thought it would affect her creativity. Our creative gifts, if not harnessed properly can be as extreme as life and death. If some creative thinkers attribute their mental illness to giving them their edge, then how do we find the balance between wellbeing and creativity? Do both always have to go hand in hand, or can one exist without the other? The one unarguable piece of evidence, is that there is a clear link between creative people and their uncanny susceptibility to mental health problems.

Dr Nancy Andreasen is a prominent neuroscientist and psychiatrist who has spent a lot of time studying the link between creative people and mental health. She initially questioned whether a large percentage of highly creative people had a first degree family link with schizophrenia. She soon realised and proved that there was a much bigger link between highly creative people and mood disorders.

Is creativity the cause of chronic anxiety in the workplace?

We all see it; creative people are plagued by constant forward thinking. With 30% of the population likely to suffer from anxiety at one time, how much do the creative industries contribute to that?

The very nature of the creative job makes for an excessive amount of worry. How am I going to meet this deadline? What if the client hates it? I need a better idea, this isn’t good enough. The list of chronic worry can be endless for a stressed creative, and research shows that they are almost permanently suffering from some level of anxiety. Does this mean creative people are plagued by their own talents?

The reality is that this link between creativity, genius and mental health isn’t anything new. If you look at any of the great creative geniuses, the majority of them have lived with some form of mental illness. Some, even, have lost their lives to it. Vincent Van Gogh cut off his own ear, the great Robin Williams took his own life, Ludwig Van Beethoven and Issac Newton were even said to have suffered from Bipolar Disorder. Yet, despite their mental illness, creative geniuses have gifted society with the luxuries that we take for granted every day.

The stigma around mental health is changing

Today’s society is certainly better understanding of mental health and the many methods that it can be treated, the stigma around mental health is finally changing. It’s slowly but surely being changed from being seen as a weakness, to something that almost everyone in their life will struggle with at some point.

Creative geniuses are no longer seen as ‘off the wall’ as they once have been, but now regarded as highly functioning people in spite of their struggles with mental illness. The creative industries have been able to harness their creative minds instead of branding them as eccentrics.

But we can always do more.

There’s no doubt that creativity is a gift, but it’s never been more important to understand the risk that can come along with it. 21st century medicine and therapies allow more and more creative people to function day to day in spite of their struggles with mental illness. But we have to ask whether agencies, the very places that harness the power of creative people all over the world, are doing enough?

From my point of view, I’ve never been more excited to work for an agency that not only has an understanding of mental health in the industry – but is doing something about it. Here at Intermarketing we have access to 24-hour counselling with treatment options such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions. Not only that, but our management will be embarking upon mental health first aid training so they can spot when their team members are struggling. We also have two newly qualified mental health first aiders already on site.

Our positive and proactive approach to supporting mental health and wellbeing in the work place is well on it’s way to helping people all over the agency with more initiatives in the pipeline. I can only hope that more agencies all over the globe can start to take care of their employee’s mental health so they can continue to harness their creative ability without burning them out.

And just maybe, advertising agencies and the creative industries alike are just the new mental institution for creative people.