Mental health issues are prevalent in the arts community. Some may feel shame or stigma about their mental health, so we have asked artists to anonymously share their experiences. Through this collection of stories, we hope to show artists that they are not alone in their struggles.

It can be really hard to separate your identity from your craft. Music school can be competitive and a lot of people judge their opinion of you as a person based on your abilities as a musician. It’s very easy for this not to get to you, you want to get better to stand out and get jobs, but also because it changes how people see you. Numerous times I’ve had instructors on their phone instead of pay attention to my playing or a group of students ignore me for being in a different (worse) ensemble. It makes you feel like a terrible musician, and because you can’t separate this from your identity, you just feel like a failure in every way.

The years right after I graduated were some of the darkest times in my life. I always thought I would feel fulfilled as long as I was chasing my passion. Instead, I watched as my non-arts friends started on stable careers, making enough money to move out and live comfortably, as I burned myself out working 4 jobs. There was little hope of a stable career and I could never see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had always felt on track with my life up to this point. It was rough to see so many people start moving ahead in their lives while I felt so hopelessly stuck. Having to keep pushing myself while I was at my lowest point made it so difficult to feel any kind of optimism at all. Comparison is the thief of joy, but I’d say precarity is, too.

When you follow your passions and pursue your art, it becomes very hard to separate work and life. Art used to be my escape and my coping mechanism, but after it becoming my school life and trying to make it my livelihood, it’s stressful. I’ve spent so much energy on this I don’t know how to create a new escape.

Pursuing fine arts as a career has never been the easiest choice professionally speaking. Looking back, I had been so proud to complete my BFA back in 2016, and felt as though I could conquer anything. Little did I know, the battle to find a steady and fulfilling job in this industry would continue well past completing my undergraduate degree. Although I have no regrets about going to school for something that I love and am passionate about, I do wish I had done my research beforehand on what jobs are available to fine arts alumni. University had been very theoretically fulfilling, however lacked substantially in terms of learning tactical skills and tools which I would soon find out would be integral in landing a job. In terms of jobs, the other problem was the fact that there weren’t many resources, if any, to explain what we could actually do with our degree. We were essentially told we could go back to do our masters’ degree (if we get accepted, and then what?), go into teaching (where there is a definite lack of jobs available), or apply to do an artist in residency. Once we were done with our final culminating art show, we were sent off into the world without any follow-up or interpersonal resources. This obviously discouraged me, as it took some time to come to terms with what I was up against. I ended up giving up for a few years, having been equipped with very little navigation, and waited tables to make money. I personally feel as though by spending about $50,000 on four years of intensive education, you’d think there would be some potential careers available. It began to make me wonder who this program is benefitting, and why it’s still being taught in every major university throughout North America. This has affected my mental health in the way that by failing to utilize my degree, there came a sense of shame, defeat, and panic. I struggle with anxiety, and I have found that without a doubt, the most difficult years coping with this had been the year directly following my graduation. I was confused as to what my next steps were, adjusting to living back home with my parents as I could not afford housing after school, and it felt like there was an overall drastic regression in my life. This led to overthinking, feeling like I’d lost control, constant intrusive negative thoughts, and eventually frequent panic attacks. Although I have learned to cope and manage these symptoms, looking back I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself and understood that these feelings and emotions post-graduation are relatively normal and are something that should be accepted and spoken about.

When your art form requires so much perfection and leaves little room for forgiveness or error, it can start to breed a perfectionist mentality. I was never much of a perfectionist, to begin with, but since trying to pursue a career as a musician, I never felt like anything I did would ever be good enough. I started beating myself up over every little detail until playing music was no longer enjoyable. It became the source of so much stress and anxiety that part of me resented spending so much of my life on my art. It was heartbreaking to give up on that dream but for the first time in years, I enjoy making music again.

Dance is a competitive sport, but the competitiveness is always silent. The judgment and criticism from your peers and instructors is unspoken and yet incredibly loud. By nature, being a dancer involves being looked at. You are creating art with your body, and for people to observe your art you must accept the fact that you are going to be perceived. As a result of this, everyone is always comparing themselves to one another and it can create a toxic environment to be in. There is a certain image that has been projected onto us telling us how a dancer is “supposed to look,” and all of us spent so much energy trying to attain that image for ourselves. A memory that will forever be ingrained into my brain is from when I was roughly 10 or 11 years old. Although I’m sure it happened before, it was the first memory I have of lining up with my class to have our measurements taken for our recital costumes. Perhaps it was because at the time I was starting to become aware of my body, but before it was my turn I distinctly remember catching a glimpse of my teacher’s paper where all of my classmates’ measurements were written, and I made the conscious decision to suck my stomach in to create the illusion that I was as small as them. I would have rather been stuck in an uncomfortable costume that was too small for me than have it documented that I was larger than them. Then, I “prepared” for measurement taking day every year after that. There are many factors that have contributed to my disordered eating from childhood into adulthood, but I can confidently say that my time as a dancer was one of them.

I remember my first few years as a young conductor. I was so excited to finally be conducting my own ensemble, making artistic choices, and leading a group of people who trusted me. At the same time, I had this nagging self-doubt. A voice in my head said that I was inexperienced, clueless, and lazy. I would shame myself if I didn’t prepare rehearsals enough, or made some mistake. Most of the time, things went really well and I still had a passion for what I was doing. But when I was alone with my thoughts, I would often be fixated on what could be improved and how I was too lazy to actually go through with it. Telling myself that would just perpetuate the cycle. I think a lot of us feel bad for struggling in the first place and we minimize our issues since we seem fine on the outside. But telling yourself that you are fine because you are not struggling as much or as obviously as others is a disservice to yourself. Take yourself seriously, take care of yourself, and know that it’s okay to fail at doing so. Practicing true self-care and healthy thinking habits is a HARD skill and it’s something we can all benefit from. Years later, and after changing careers out of the arts, I am still working on the balance between being motivated to work hard and acknowledging the hard work I am already doing.

Feeling behind in life because I am not ready financially, I want to start a family, live where I want with an opportunity for artistic jobs and positions (having the pressure of lack of opportunities, wanting to move out of the city but less jobs for artists). As a result feeling burn out, stress and discouragement.

I always struggled with the constantly worrying about what my colleagues thought of me. Organizing and preparing music is very hard (especially as a student) but when other artists come after each other it makes the atmosphere way less welcoming. Make beautiful music and smile at those around you!

The uncertainty and instability of an artist’s life can be hard to deal with sometimes, especially being prone to anxiety and depressing thoughts. It’s sort of like a wormhole, where one bad thought leads to another and it can sort of get out of control. It’s often paralyzing and has prevented me from pursuing my art at times. Throw a pandemic and systemic racism in there and it’s quite easy to feel like you are leading a pointless life. The worst part is knowing about the privilege I have in comparison to others around the world, the struggles my parents have been through by leaving their family and their home country to provide opportunities for me, and logically knowing I am surrounded by supportive friends and family….. and still ending up feeling empty and alone inside. Happiness is a choice, self care is important… and with that I continue to push through.

There were many times in my experience as a music student where I would spend HOURS at a time stressfully practicing in a small “soundproof” room. I was full of self-doubt and surrounded by other people who sounded WAY better than I did (or so I thought at the time). What I realize now, a few years after graduation is that every other person, playing in the small “soundproof” rooms around me, was feeling the same way. Every music student at some point has felt the fears of failure, the crippling performance anxiety, the need for perfection etc. We all feel the stress, we all feel unprepared sometimes, but in reality we are really quite good at what we do. Those feelings of self-doubt, perfectionism and anxiety will never fully go away. But this is also what draws us to the arts; to be the very best [that we can be].

During my undergrad studying film production my cohort was asked to pitch ideas to the class and faculty multiple times, and only the ones deemed “more likely to succeed” were chosen to be put into production. I noticed a pattern throughout those years that the same group of students and very similar pitches were always chosen, and I was never one of them. It took a toll on my mental health because I began thinking that I wasn’t good enough, that my ideas were bad, and that I wouldn’t be successful in the industry. I spent a lot of time questioning my abilities. I had always been prideful of my creativity and for the first time in my life I started believing that I wasn’t as artistically inclined as I thought. This was very stressful for me because I had spent my entire life in the arts and I felt like a fraud. It took some time, but eventually I had to realize that just because that one group of people didn’t understand my ideas doesn’t mean that someone out there won’t. I was robbed of the opportunity to see one of my ideas come to life during school, so I guess I’ll just have to make it happen on my own. And that’s okay.

Being a music student involves you living, breathing, thinking about, engaging with music all day, every day. And while it’s great doing something you love all the time, a lot of the music you’re interacting with is stuff you don’t like, care about, or would choose on your own time to engage with. This type of dissonance is normal in every subject, but when it comes to music it hits different. Being around something you’re so passionate about all the time, but not the specific things you like feels weird, when you think you should be happy and enjoying your time, but you aren’t. And it is almost impossible to prioritize your own musical ventures when you’re so busy working on ones you’ve been told to focus on.

I am finally at the point in my life where I don’t fear failure anymore. I know I have failed many times as an artist, at least by my own standards, but each failure allows me to grow. I’m really proud of myself for getting back up each time. There are bad days but they are inevitable. There will always be good days, too.

I majored in jewelry design at OCADU a very well-known Art University in Ontario. During my years as an art student, there were a lot of financial burdens that I had to overcome which had a significant impact on the quality and process of my work. I genuinely enjoyed this program however the costs for precious metals and materials were too expensive for my budget. The tuition for the school was high enough plus the living expenses in Toronto was very expensive. As a student, it was difficult for me to manage and purchase everything that I needed to thoroughly and efficiently finish my art work. For example, if I didn’t have a certain material or equipment I would have to share with another student which causes a delay in our works as only one person can use it at a time. Also, unlike other programs, the marking scheme for our work/projects is very ambiguous as it is determined purely on how the professors perceives or views our art work. This was one of my major stressors during university because I was always anxious with my grades and how my professor’s would view my artwork. After graduating from OCAD I was unsuccessful in finding a career that was related to my art degree. There is a low demand in this field (especially where I live today) and I did not have enough connections to pursue or start in a company related to my field. So now, I changed my career and kept jewelry design as my hobby.

Feeling sad? Music. Feeling happy? Music. Hanging out with friends? Music. It didn’t matter the occasion, music was always the answer so when the decision for university came around, there was only one clear answer; music. I was so excited to go to university and be united with like-minded people who were just as passionate, creative, and talented as I was… but the pressure, uncertainty, loneliness, and judgement made me altered my views and feelings that I never imagined. This change of environment impacted both my musicianship and mental health. I became crippled with anxiety because I felt like I was constantly under a microscope. Somedays, singing a whole song without crying was a small victory in itself. Peers giving backhanded “compliments” because you had to for participation marks. Teachers always telling you what to change or what was wrong, without ever a simple “well done, you!” Failure. Disappointment. This is how I felt as a musician for majority of my studies. Watching everyone around me excel, exceed, and be blissfully happy, was the toughest part. I never thought that I’d ever find joy in music again. But if you find the right support and guidance, the most simple “well done!” Can really make all the difference.