Artists' Mental Health

We tend to have a romanticized image of the brilliant, tortured artist, suffering for the creative cause. Many of us have heard of the famous artists who reportedly struggled with their mental health, such as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso or Edvard Munch. Alongside these figures is a long history of debating the relationship between creativity and mental illness.

While a link between mental illness and creativity has become a firm belief in popular culture, the research on the matter has produced mixed results. Some studies have reported a link between the two, but many of these have been met with criticism.

What is clear, however, is that anyone can experience mental health challenges at some point, and artists are no different. People in all careers can face burnout and work-related stress. Artists face pressures unique to their work which can contribute to their individual risk of mental health challenges. There are many options available, including therapy, that can help improve wellbeing for all.

Unique challenges for artists

Like most professions, working as an artist comes with its own unique challenges. Examples include:

How common are mental health challenges for artists?

One of the most comprehensive recent studies examined associations between specific mental illnesses and creative occupations in over 1 million people in Sweden. (1)

They found that:

Additionally, a review of nearly 30 studies found that there was only limited evidence to associate creativity with mental illness. (2)

Common mental health issues for artists

Overall, it appears that artists can be affected by the same mental health conditions as everyone else, particularly when experiencing work-related pressures. Common challenges that artists may experience in such situations include:

What to do if you are an artist struggling with mental health challenges

If you are struggling with mental health challenges, consider a combination of the following actions:

Therapy types to consider for artists

Most types of therapy can be applied to the mental health challenges that artists may experience. Common evidence-based therapy types include:

Click on the links above to learn more about these types of therapy; this will give you an idea of which type of therapy might align well with you personally. For example, some people prefer a more structured and educational style of therapy, like CBT. Other artists may feel more comfortable working in a creative arts therapy framework. You can then look for therapists that offer your preferred therapy type.

What to look for in a therapist

The best-fitting type of therapist for you will depend on individual factors, symptoms and your location. When selecting a mental health professional, it can be helpful to consider the following factors:

Personal fit

Consider the potential for developing a strong working relationship with your therapist. The trusting working relationship with a therapist is called the therapeutic alliance, and it’s the number one indicator of treatment efficacy.

Qualifications and experience

It is important to look for a licensed mental health professional. This ensures that the therapist has undertaken the appropriate education and training.

Talk in advance

The best way to judge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. Most therapists will be happy to oblige. This gives you the opportunity to ask about:

Try to speak to a few different therapists before making your mind up.

Zencare can help you to find a therapist who is a good personal fit. You can browse the videos of our vetted therapists and book a free phone call. This can help you to figure out whether you feel comfortable discussing difficult issues with the therapist, and gives a sense of what the therapist’s approach is like.

Sources and references:

  1. Mental illness, suicide and creativity: 40-Year prospective total population study
  2. Creativity and Mental Illness: Is There a Link?
  3. National Health Service, “Study looks at creativity link with mental illness
  4. Lifestyle and Mental Health
  5. Physical Exercise for Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Critical Review
  6. Sleep: A Marker of Physical and Mental Health in the Elderly