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All too often the cultural sector holds back from conversations about mental ill-health. Colin Beesting shares his manifesto for a more proactive approach.

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In the popular imagination, the troubled creative genius has been part of the narrative throughout history. But while creativity and mental illness are frequently linked, the cultural industries have struggled to find a proactive response that supports those who might struggle with their mental health.

The cliché of the ‘creative maverick’ whose negative behaviour is excused is all too prevalent

The research that exists shows that mental ill-health is having a real impact on our sector. In 2015, around 20% of the 5,000+ respondents to a survey carried out by Arts Minds revealed that mental health problems had an impact on their career. In October 2018, ArtsProfessional highlighted a report on cultural leadership, revealing that burnout is a serious concern that affects cognitive functions such as creativity, problem-solving and memory. These are all risk factors for mental ill-health.

Having spent much of my working life in the cultural sector, these statistics come as no surprise to me. Expectations are high, work is insecure, funding is uncertain and organisational culture isn’t always positive. Workplace behaviours that in other sectors would be deemed grounds for dismissal seem often to be tolerated in the creative industries. The cliché of the ‘creative maverick’ whose negative behaviour is excused is all too prevalent. This leads to a working environment loaded with mental health risk factors.

So why isn’t more action being taken? Isn’t it time that we seized the initiative and developed a positive response to mental health in the sector?

A manifesto for action

I established Creative Freedom last year to provide a focus for doing just that. We have developed a manifesto for mental health to act as a simple action plan for organisations that want to take positive action:

  1. Every organisation should have mental health first aiders to support their employees and others who work with the organisation.
  2. Every organisation should commit to talking positively about mental health and removing the stigma.
  3. Workplaces should be vigilant for the warning signs of mental ill-health and offer support to those displaying them.
  4. Workplaces should develop strategies to minimise the risk factors for mental ill-health.
  5. Workplaces should provide support and guidance for those experiencing mental ill-health.

Each of these manifesto commitments is achievable by organisations of all sizes, and with a little guidance and the right organisational culture they could be delivered across the sector.

Mental health first aid

At the centre of the manifesto is a commitment to providing a mental health first aider. While physical first aid is mandatory in UK workplaces, training on how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill-health is seriously lacking.

Mental Health First Aid is a training course that teaches people how to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue.

Training covers a wide range of mental health conditions and gives individuals and organisations the skills and knowledge to implement the manifesto.

Positive environment

In a positive environment people feel more free to be creative. It also makes business sense. For someone experiencing mental illness, working with people who talk openly about mental health can have a genuinely positive impact. Furthermore, if they feel supported, have access to trained colleagues and signposting to professional help, they are more likely to continue working successfully. Our manifesto provides a framework for this.

Supporting mental health is also a legal requirement. Both the Equality Act 2010 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 recognise mental health within their scope. Employers who do not put measures in place to support and respond might find themselves in breach of this guidance.

So it’s time we changed the conversation about mental health in the cultural and creative sectors to one of positivity and openness. We’re leading the way – are you coming with us?

Colin Beesting is the Founder of Creative Freedom.

For more on our campaign and training visit us online.

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