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  • Writer's pictureColin Beesting

A manifesto for a mentally healthy cultural sector

It’s time for a conversation about mental health in the cultural sector.

This article appeared in Arts Professional on 18 April 2019

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 which supports those who might struggle with their mental health.

The research that exists shows that mental ill health is having a real impact on our sector. In 2015, 20% of the 5,000-plus respondents to the ‘Arts Minds’ survey revealed that mental health problems had impacted on their career. More recently, in October 2018, Arts Professional highlighted a report on cultural leadership, which said that burnout is a serious concern which 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, are tolerated in the creative industries. The cliche of the ‘creative maverick’ whose

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?

Creative Freedom was established in 2018 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.

At the centre of the manifesto is a commitment to providing a Mental Health First Aider in every creative workplace in the UK. Whilst physical first aid is mandatory in UK workplaces, training on how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill-health is seriously lacking. We think this is wrong.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a training course which teaches people how to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue. It is an important first step in creating a more positive environment in relation to mental health, equipping first aiders with an understanding of how to support wellbeing and tackle stigma. Other responsible industries are already waking up to the benefits of supporting mental health in the workplace, and it’s time that the cultural sector to jumped on board.

In a mental health-positive environment people feel more free to be creative. It also makes business sense. For someone experiencing mental illness, working somewhere that people talk openly and positively 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 why not join our campaign to improve the cultural and creative sector’s response to mental health by committing to our manifesto and implementing it in your organisation?

A manifesto for mental health in the cultural and creative sectors

We want to change how cultural and creative sector organisations talk about, support and respond to mental health. We believe that:

  1. Every organisation should have Mental Health First Aiders to support their employees, 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 could be delivered across the sector.

Creative Freedom is the only organisations in the UK specialising in Mental Health First Aid training for the creative and cultural sectors. Training covers a wide range of mental health conditions and gives individuals and organisations the skills and knowledge to implement the manifesto. We deliver whole-organisation, in-house training as well as training days where individuals can join a small group of peers to learn together. There’s more information on the manifesto on our website as well as hints and tips on how to implement small changes that could make a big difference.

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?

This article appeared in Arts Professional on 18 April 2019

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