Social stigma and mental health go together hand in hand, and have been with us for centuries as the arts have. It is of utmost importance that diversity is a core element of every society, not just to promote fairness, but also to actively promote individuality. Therefore, the relevance of diversity, arts and mental health is that it gives leeway to individuals to be expressive, and to discover who they really are. The forms of art can be clear or blurred, but that’s the beauty of exploring what makes art. Is writing, or is makeup art? To start defining what art is takes away from its diverse nature, the fact that art can be anything, just like us as people. We can be anything, and we are all completely unique in every aspect, including mental health.
Each person has mental health, just like they have physical health. One of the differences between physical and mental health is that the signs of someone struggling with mental health are often more subtle. And therefore cannot be seen through an individual’s skill of wearing masks or acting. So does that mean we all are capable of being an ‘actor’? There are experiences each person goes through when it is necessary to hide and mask their pain. They ‘act’ that they are fine. This is where I believe the arts has a major effect on mental health. For example; Performances that implement and showcase diversity, raising awareness about different societal norms, pressures, and problems can be cathartic for the audience. Because of this, audience members that struggle with mental health can feel connected. And when one feels connected then perhaps they can talk about their experiences. Art needs to give a voice to those who struggle to voice their emotions and feelings.
I have graduated in English Literature & Drama in 2016, and one of the many isolating experiences in being a drama graduate is the fact I was the ‘Pakistani, South Asian girl’ in my class for 3 years. This fact did affect my mental health, on the basis that I felt like I was an alien. I went through stages of feeling lonely, and not ‘good enough’. It may have been that I was out of my comfort zone, or it could merely be the fact that there was no diversity in my class. Therefore, the relevance of the arts and the mental health are intimately connected to one another. I cannot stress enough the vital reasons for having diversity in any work field but most importantly the arts. The arts need to empower individuals to seek what they are looking for regardless of their background, skin colour, religion and sexuality. Because what connects us are our emotions. And one can express their feelings through the power of art.
The arts have helped me to discover who I want to be, and recognise who I was. Experiencing bereavement at the age of twenty-one made me feel like I was stuck in a generation where I did not belong. It is difficult to find people my age who have had similar experiences to me. Therefore I used dance and writing as a way to improve my mental health and grief. It was the feeling of not belonging that increased my passion about the arts, and drove me to have a voice about mental health. Diversity is not just about equality and fairness. It is about belonging. It is about knowing you can connect with others through your pain and experiences.
There are many reasons why the arts, diversity and mental health interlink with each other, and therefore now more than ever it is important to voice your view on this. As I previously mentioned, art comes in many forms, art can help lift and build individuals up. One of the reasons why mental health has stigma around it is because people feel they do not belong, the pressures of society to be ‘normal’ and not to express your emotions is what bottles inside us and eventually that volcano erupts. That is why it is vital to have the medium of art to promote diversity and individuality. And that we all have mental health experiences that can make us feel connected and as though we belong.