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Mental health policy in the arts

A Nitro online opinion piece about the wellbeing of artists and art students

I had the pleasure of recently publishing an online opinion piece for Nitro, a great online platform for art practitioners and those in arts higher education. This month's issue, Australia's arts and culture policy the state of play, focuses on the "face, facets and future of our national art and culture policy". In my article (below) I raise the topic of mental health policy for artists and art students. Many thanks to Jenny and the Nitro team for letting me post the article here! Happy reading...

Protecting and enhancing the wellbeing of artists and students

In the past few years, published reports have indicated concerning trends in creative artist mental health. For example, 5 Australian entertainment industry workers attempt death by suicide every week, with those in the entertainment industry experiencing depression symptoms five times higher than the general population (Eynde, Fisher & Sonn, 2016). These concerning reports are not limited to just the entertainment sector. A recent study (Tank, 2018) indicates that creative media and marketing workers also experience mental health problems as a result of bullying, sexual harassment, racism, working long hours and fear in the workplace. With this in mind, I believe that the mental health and wellbeing of artists needs to be seriously addressed in policy. This is vital, given that not only is the health of our industry at stake, but the lives of our creative workers, too.

What has been done for creative artists in reflecting this expansion of mental health research? Recently, various initiatives like Arts Wellbeing Collective and Never Not Creative have established a sense of community support and provided various resources to improve mental health in the creative workforce. In terms of policy, the Never Not Creative community emphasises in their Creative’s Pledge that employers have a mental health policy and procedures for actively protecting their creative workers. This community also provides a Mental Health Policy to be used by the public as a template that provides ways to “fight for a more positive and accepted future for mental health” (Wright, 2018) within the creative workforce.

These two initiatives are new and have the potential to greatly influence our creative industries. However, I believe—and would like to think that the founders of these initiatives agree—that more can be done to prevent and protect the mental health of artists before they enter the workforce. This requires further participation from the institutions who train a majority of emerging artists through higher education. Universities, in particular, can play a key role in educating their art students about mental health and wellbeing. However, there is still much that can be done to address the mental health of all students in Australian higher education policy. For example, a report (Orygen, 2017) described Australia as an international leader in youth mental health, but lacks in regard to student wellbeing in higher education policy.

Higher education policy can draw attention to ways that we not only respond to, but also prevent mental health problems. Policy can also provide a space for specifically addressing the unique experiences of people training in different fields like the creative arts. Art students in university can benefit from intervention that helps them learn how to understand, protect and enhance their wellbeing. For example, enhanced wellbeing can help students’ increase creative thinking (Lambert, Passmore & Holder, 2015), improve their resilience and ensure they have the tools necessary to manage challenges they experience in the workforce. Successful and sustainable intervention, however, requires sensitivity to the unique language and practice of artists, as well as an in-depth understanding of their training environment.

Effective and sustainable intervention requires accurate evidence-based recommendations that identify art students’ wellbeing needs. This is why I am currently collecting art student’s opinions on their mental health and wellbeing, through the Visual Arts Wellbeing (VAW) research project. VAW focuses on representing the opinions of art students who are studying visual art disciplines. My objective for this research is to provide an evidence-based list of recommendations that assists higher educators in redesigning art curriculum. This may lay the foundation for future change in art education policy.

It is vital that any steps forward with transforming the policy and educational structure of artist training is based on the voice of the students themselves. After all, they understand their environment, their experiences, and their wellbeing intimately. Hence, it is important to gather their opinions on how their art education impacts their wellbeing and how curriculum could be changed to enhance it. I am currently collecting data from students through an online survey and interviews and I will continue to do so until December 2018.

Further reading

Eynde, J., Fisher, A., & Sonn, C. (2016). Working in the Australian Entertainment Industry: Final Report Retrieved from Entertainment Assist:

Lambert, L., Passmore, H.-A., & Holder, M. D. (2015). Foundational frameworks of positive psychology: Mapping well-being orientations. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 56(3), 311-321. doi:

Orygen Foundation. (2017). Under the radar: The mental health of Australian university students. Retrieved from Melbourne:

Wright, A. (2018). Mentally Healthy. Retrieved from


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