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Mental Illness: Nature vs Nurture

There is a line ‘they’ say; a line glittered by the gems of a successful career, a line so fine that 100,000 seat stadiums of smart phone lenses can’t focus it, a delicate line spun into a greedy web of gossip for tabloids to ensnare its prey. They say there’s a fine line between madness and genius, but when creatives thrive off unsympathetic audiences and the conveyer-belt nature within the competitive arts industry isolates them into paranoia and harmful thoughts; is the confusion really between talent and madness, or is it the grinding gears of mental illness that our artists, due to their industry, are sensitive to?

“Among these 35,000 people, those deemed to be creative – either by profession or through answers to a questionnaire- were 25 per cent more likely to carry the -Journal Nature Neurosciencemental disorder variant” -Journal Nature Neuroscience

Kari Stephenson, founder and CEO of deCODE, in Reykjavik (Iceland), Said, “To be creative, you have to think differently, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane.’

Recently in the news; 21 Grammy Award winning Artist, Songwriter, Fashion Designer and Entrepreneur, Kanye West, was admitted to UCLA Medical Centre and was placed under heavy observation after suffering from exhaustion and sleep deprivation. Dr Jody M. Roules, upon reflection of West’s case, believes that “ Physical exhaustion and lack of sleep can lead to erratic, psychotic and paranoid thinking” ,he went on to say, “Certainly someone who has a lot of pressure to perform present their art, do interviews and be seen can feel a lot of pressure”. From the start of Kanye’s career to the present, irrespective to the content of his work, we have seen him suffer publicly within his personal life and witnessed a gradual decay in his behavior, from his erratic episodes at events and standoffs with other artists. Could this be a example of nurture over nature?

I spoke to ‘West End Girl’ to further understand, on a personal level, her ideas on the correlation between her own struggles and the creative industry:

How much do you think being in the business may have contributed and why?

I’m pretty certain that working in an industry that places so much emphasis on looks and aesthetic definitely contributed. Our jobs can be all consuming, you often fall into a trap where you become your work, leaving you feeling the need to become something that fits in with the ideals that are in place. After all, you want to succeed and subconsciously you are told there is a formula in which to do so.

However I don’t think we can say that the industry causes mental illness. It’s nature vs nurture – those who are pre disposed to mental illness due to genetics, personality type and upbringing can find that the performing arts industry is the perfect breeding ground for these troubles. It doesn’t always happen though, and you can find yourself mentally sound for years at a time. It’s an amalgamation of factors that causes it to snowball.

Conversely you get troubled souls who re-discover themselves through becoming involved in a creative industry. For them it is healing.

Do you think that there was enough support for you specifically as a performer?  Specific support, no. But once I was in the regular system, they did understand the demands of the industry and claimed to treat many people in exactly the same job as me. I don’t see a problem with this though really. Looking back I think it was useful to be able to get help in an environment totally detached from work, but not alien to it.

And if it did how much of it may have manifested at college and how?

I had struggled before college too, so my time there was never going to be the start of any issues. Of course the same ideals about aesthetics exist, but you also have a lot more structure and support. Teachers are pretty vigilant on pastoral care too from what I remember.

I think once you are out on your own with less stability that its most likely to manifest.

The frivolous anecdote that refers to the uncertainty of genius and madness is superfluous and weak. Genius requires meticulous practice and hard graft to achieve, while madness seems involuntary and an instinct that can be triggered within us all. From my own experiences, I don’t feel like I was prepared for how isolating and lonely being an artist can be, how physically and emotionally demanding it is to perform daily when your suffering in your personal life. I myself have ridden the wave of anxiety, the knots of emotion would strap me to my bed until late in the afternoon and no amounts of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta and The Real Housewives of Atlanta could calm the tide of insecurities that numbed me. Eventually admitting that I was struggling became my life-jacket, the exhaustion of treading water made my personal relationships erode and my wellbeing decay. Something needed to change and i eventually got the support i needed from friends and family. Do I believe that there is a gene exclusive to creatives? No I don’t. But I understand how deeply personal and exposing it is share your art with to the public and how the coarse nature of the business can tap the shoulder of mental illness. The line that we tight rope along is mental illness, but are we romanticizing this line that threatens to throttle those who are in the limelight or can we just not see it?

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