The #mentalhealthawareness hashtag is updated every few seconds on Twitter and has over 4 million posts on Instagram. But what exactly is mental health, what are the symptoms and why are people working in creative industries like fashion, more likely to experience mental health issues?
In a conversation that explores the different terms associated with mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and stress, psychologist and founder of Kingston Psychology clinic Dr Sally Field explains that anybody can experience difficult thoughts and feelings when faced with enough stresses in life. But “people that are very determined, driven, ambitious [and] striving characters have a higher incidence of anxiety-related disorders.”
According to Dr Field, who also works for the NHS as a senior clinical psychologist and trains other mental health professionals, people with “those characteristics or thinking styles” are more likely to develop anxiety and when they work in creative industries like fashion, this probability is higher. “Any industry which is very difficult to get into and then very competitive once you are in it is gonna attract those types of characteristics and individuals. So they might well be more susceptible to feeling more anxious,” she expresses.
Fashion is a fast-paced industry and is driven by ever-changing trends. Individuals working in this environment are not only expected to work long hours to meet the demand of producing more and more clothes. They also have to continually engage with online social media platforms like Instagram to remain relevant in the industry.
Additionally, a work-life balance is harder to establish as workers, regularly have to attend networking events to keep up with industry expectations. According to a 2017 study by Allyson Stokes, fashion professionals usually go to “an event every night,” and in some cases bounce “between multiple events in a single evening.” This can often affect a person’s ability to separate work life from private life and increases their vulnerability to mental health issues.
“….people that are very determined, driven, ambitious [and] striving characters have a higher incidence of anxiety-related disorders”
Dr Field suggests that “from a psychological point of view, organisations have got a responsibility to make sure that their employees are able to live a balanced life. So they are able to…rest and [have] relaxation time away from work.” She adds that “if [companies] have people working in a high-stress environment, working long hours over long periods of time, it will take its toll on people. It will have an impact. And that’s nothing to do with the individual. That’s to do with, how much…a human being [can] stand in terms of chronic stress.”
A study by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills shows that prioritising the well-being of employees is not only a nice thing to do but it increases a person’s productivity levels and leads to a positive effect on a company’s bottom line. Editors like Arianna Huffington, have previously talked about how looking after the well-being of employees improves their decision making and creativity, making this a win-win scenario.
But what about people that are self-employed and have limited access to healthcare benefits compared to full-time employees? After all, Allyson Stokes’ report estimates that most fashion work is “contract-based, freelance, independent, or temporary.” So, how can these workers manage their mental well being?
“It is going to be even harder for someone that is self-employed, because whilst they have their flexibility and their independence that employed people don’t have, there is also a far less sense of security,” notes Dr Field. “People are going to feel like they are only as good as their job. They have got to be seen to be putting the hours in, being concerned about where the next contract is coming from. As human beings we like a sense of security and self-employment offers less of that compared to employed work,” she explains. “However, if people are self-employed rather than working for an organisation, it’s about them recognising what they need to do to look after themselves.”
Dr Field emphasises the importance of taking psychological health seriously rather than waiting until there is a problem. “It wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if you said that in order to be physically healthy, you have to do what you can to eat healthily, be active and moderate your alcohol consumption. But when it comes to psychological health, people don’t see it as something that needs to be invested in. We have to invest in our psychological health in the same way we invest in our physical health. That involves…having the basics in place like good nutrition, exercise [and] meditation to help with relaxation outside of work.”
Meanwhile, although the stigma surrounding mental health is slowly fading, especially after high profile campaigns like ‘Heads Together’ supported by the Royal Foundation, Dr Field argues that “there are long-standing attitudes towards mental health where it’s seen that if someone isn’t coping, then it’s some sort of weakness or flaw of the individual. It makes people feel very ashamed.” But she encourages everyone to take time to check in with themselves and ask simple questions like, “how am I feeling?…what are my levels of stress like at the moment? Is this a fairly usual level of day to day stuff or is it tipping over into something else?” She points out that “the only way to become more aware of it [mental health] is to pay more attention…and reflecting on our own moods state.”
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