Do art and depression go hand in hand?

What is the image that comes to your mind when you think of an artist? Let me guess- constantly smoking, brooding over a blank canvas, contemplating every stroke of their brush and jumping up at the slightest distractions. It also makes you wonder what sort of demons they are battling on the inside to be so fitful and anxious. And if every artist you know is not in the right state of their mind, then it must tell us something, right?

It does feel like there is a connection

Kurt Cobain, the lead vocalist of Nirvana, committed suicide on April 5th, 1994, has become a prominent icon of art and depression correlation.
Kurt Cobain, the lead vocalist of Nirvana, committed suicide on April 5th, 1994.

We, as a society, romanticize mental illness. We believe that people who battle depression, bipolar disorders and schizophrenia must be so strong. Examples like Kurt Cobain, Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Earnest Hemmingway and Virginia Woolf only feeds into these hypotheses. There have also been studies that show a link between creativity and mental illness. For example, one study in England, conducted by the national office of statistics, found that people working in the arts industry were four times more likely to kill themselves. Another study conducted in 2013 said that authors were more prone to severe mental disorders like depression, bipolar syndrome, schizophrenia, substance abuse and many more.

Is that the whole story, though? Do arts and mental illness really go hand in hand?

Well, it might seem so, but all these studies are inconclusive.

Correlation or Coincidence?

Do art and depression go hand in hand?

A lot of external factors can come into play when it comes to a person’s mental health. There can be past traumas, genetic links, or simply a fact of a disruptive lifestyle. None of these factors can make a person more creative than s/he already is. But it seems that only the people struggling with mental issues are thriving as artists. Believing that is not completely on us, because like I said, we tend to romanticize mental issues. But according to numerous psychologists, claiming that only depressed, anxious people are more creative will be an overkill. True, art is a way of dealing with whatever hardships life throws at you. Sometimes, people who are trying to deal with all of their emotions tend to get mentally sick. They express those struggles through words, music and brush strokes.

However, there are a large number of artists who are just as creative, just as famous and they do not have any sort of apparent mental struggles. In fact, the latter might be more in number. Having a mental health issue isn’t a necessity for an artist. Sometimes it just works as a catalyst.

Call a spade a spade

Do art and depression go hand in hand?

Bottom line, the next time you see someone torturing themselves and giving excuses like “it’s for my art”, drag their behind to a shrink. There can be a deeply rooted identity crisis within these people. There is a possibility that they keep themselves miserable just because they do not know who they would be without this part of themselves.

Read more: 5 places in Dhaka to get counselling help.

Whatever the case is, these people are capable of living a healthy life filled with both joy and sadness. They don’t have to be depressed for the sake of art. Tell them that. Help them heal. And someday, they will thank you for it.

Vital answers about teen depression and suicide

The transition from childhood to adulthood is often challenging and tumultuous, and it is during this period that some teenagers and young adults first experience depression and suicidal thoughts. Sadly, depression is a much more widespread problem than most people think.

Not every young adult will suffer from depression or contemplating suicide, of course, but it’s important for parents to pay attention to their child’s behaviour as he or she gets older and to allow for open and honest communication. Parents can be better prepared to support a child who may be depressed or suicidal by educating themselves about these mental health issues.

Here are just a few of the questions that parents of young adults often have about depression and suicide, accompanied by answers from the mental health treatment centre, Yellowbrick.

Question: How do I know if my child is depressed?

Answer: It’s hard to say if a young adult is depressed or simply “going through a moody phase”.  There are no reliable indicators of an impending suicide attempt, but there are some common signs that could mean someone is experiencing depression. These might include a loss of interest in activities that your child once enjoyed, isolation from friends and family, changes in sleeping patterns (either lack of sleep or excessive sleep), changes in appetite or eating patterns, low energy levels, or sudden mood swings. Some young adults may also attempt to use drugs and alcohol to cope with depression. Substance abuse is not necessarily an indicator of suicidal thoughts, but it does increase the risk of a depressed individual attempting suicide.

Question: What might my child be going through after a suicide attempt?

Answer: It is not uncommon for young adults to experience feelings of shame and guilt after a failed suicide attempt. These feelings may cause them to withdraw from their loved ones further, increasing their actual or perceived social isolation. Unfortunately, young adults who have attempted suicide once have a higher risk for another attempt, as the first attempt may have a gateway effect on the risk-reward center of the brain.

Let them know that they can talk to you without fear of being judged.

Question: How can I best support my child after a suicide attempt?

Answer: Because a young adult who has attempted suicide may be experiencing shame, one of the most valuable things you can do as a parent is to demonstrate your unconditional acceptance of your child. Offer to support your child in whatever way he or she needs at this time, and talk to your child about seeing a therapist or counsellor. Empathize with your child even if they are experiencing frustration and anger.  Let them know that they can talk to you without fear of being judged.

Felt really down and didn’t know where to get help? Here is a list to help you next time.

October 10th was World Mental Health Day, an opportunity to talk about mental health.
What do you do, if you are in Dhaka, having a really bad day and need help?

Reaching this conclusion is an amazing feat in itself. There is enough stigma, social and personal barriers that prevent people from going to a therapist. You do not have to be diagnosed with anything, you are not ‘crazy’ or ‘weak’. Sometimes its just nice (and necessary) to talk to a professional, who has the tools to listen.

Here are a couple of places that we recommend.  Our recommendations are based on therapists who seem non-judgemental, are easy to talk to, maintain confidentiality while meeting mental health and wellness needs :

Praava Health

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/praavahealth/

Address: House 9, Road 17, Block C, Banani, 1213 Dhaka

Phone Number: 09678701701

Psychological Health and Wellness Clinic – PHWC

Facebook:facebook.com/PHWCDhaka/phwcbd.org

Website: http://phwcbd.org/ 

Address:3rd Floor, Caldwell Centre, House 54, Rd No. 11, Block C, Banani, Dhaka 1213

Phone Number: 01777-772764

Opening hours: Sunday-Wednesday 9.00 – 19.00, Thursday 9.00 – 17.00, Saturday 10.00 – 18.00

You can request English speaking therapists if needed.

Healing Heart Counseling Unit

Facebook:facebook.com/healingheart2010/

Address: House 121, Road 6, Block-B, Bashundhara R/A, Dhaka

Phone Number: 01752-074497

Nasirullah Psychotherapy Unit

Facebook: facebook.com/pg/npudcp.bd

Website: npudu.org

Address: 3rd floor, Arts Building (beside Population Science Dept.), Dhaka University

Phone Number: +880 1755654835, +880 1727906007

Bojack Horseman doesn’t get a pass

Bojack Horseman has grown enough as a show to make statements on current social issues. It also lets on whether Bojack the character deserves any sympathy.

He isn’t a good guy, he isn’t a bad guy. He is just a guy, who occasionally does very shitty things. This time, he went far enough, and pushed enough people away, to realize that he needs help to get better.

During an understated moment, midway through the season, Bojack’s dad, Butterscotch, tells him how you cannot depend on people. The only person you can depend on is yourself. And even though Bojack’s mother wasn’t the best person to be around, she was a good mother for teaching her son that important lesson.

Bojack has learned not to depend on people. Yet, others liking him is what he wants. There is a massive discrepancy between what Bojack actually is and how he wants to be seen. That’s something he has to deal with in his latest TV show, Philbert because the main character is dark, noirish and does shitty things as well.

It didn’t have to be this way. Bojack was in a better place last season, by becoming a stable mentor for his half-sister, Hollyhock, and provided some comfort to his mother in a rare moment of clarity between bouts of dementia.

But Bojack doesn’t get to be normalized. He doesn’t get to say it’s okay to be broken, because it lets the viewers who are broken off the hook as well. Diane says it best when she says that, if Philbert the show makes it okay for assholes to normalize themselves and their behavior, then she didn’t want to be on the show anymore.

Being Woke Isn’t Enough

In this season, Bojack directly addresses the Me Too movement, and the progressive, SJW mindsets deriding sexual predators in Hollywood.

Being a man and speaking up against a Mel Gibson type means that Bojack gets applauded by an audience of chickens. However, when Bojack himself steers into the irredeemable territory by assaulting his girlfriend and costar, Gina, on set during a painkiller-induced haze, Gina refuses to let the potential controversy derail her burgeoning career. She refused to let Bojack be the biggest thing that ever happened to her. She wanted her work and her career to be her legacy.

Bojack begs Diane to destroy him by doing an expose because he wanted to be held accountable. But she wouldn’t because only Bojack could hold himself accountable. At this point, he isn’t a child, or even a young adult finding himself anymore. He is an adult in his mid-fifties. He needs to embrace the help that therapy, and later, rehab brings.

The show also takes a more comedic approach with the ascent of Henry Fondle, sex robot, to WhatTimeIsitRightNow.com’s CEO role, despite having no credentials whatsoever. He is taken down when a junior executive speaks out against his proclivities and the company’s female employees are, in turn, let go as it scales back its operations in response.

How to Change, and Let Others Change Too

Two major developments in this season include Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter going their separate ways, and Princess Carolyn trying to adopt a baby. Diane embraces the loneliness that divorce brings, in order to learn how to survive alone again. Mr. Peanutbutter, on the other hand, runs after the next shiny thing and immediately gets into another relationship with another impressionable twenty years old, Pickles Aplenty.

Mr. Peanutbutter tries, alternatively, to be tougher and to grow up beyond dating twenty-somethings that leave him as they mature into more fully-formed beings. He tries to be the mature one for once and break it off with Pickles before things get too serious. But he relents and asks her hand in marriage instead.

Princess Carolyn, on the other hand, finally manages to adopt a baby by the end of the season, even though she hasn’t fully made peace with the fact that she is still bullshitting her way into getting what she wants without fully realizing the consequences. She may not be ready to give up career momentum to spend enough time with her baby to raise and nurture her. As Bojack says in the season’s standout sixth episode, you have to do the hard work of getting better every day, and that’s harder than it sounds.

Everything is Worse Now

This season does a great job in handling grief, as always, in two episodes. The first deals with Diane’s divorce as she tries to find herself in Vietnam, and the second deals with Bojack giving a eulogy for his mother, Beatrice.

I talked a little bit about Diane’s sojourn in an earlier article. It’s a sweet, heartfelt reflection on learning to lead a solitary life after being together with someone for a long, long time. But it’s the sixth episode, Free Churro, that elevates Bojack Horseman to masterclass status.

He breaks down several times as he alternates between his hatred for his mother, and his vain attempts to reconnect with her over the years. He agonizes over the idea that her last words to him were ‘I see you’ and he never would have the chance to make things right with her again, or even with his father, who had passed away years earlier. Beatrice had delivered Butterscotch’s eulogy, and said, ‘My husband is dead, and everything is worse now’. And Bojack couldn’t help but echo the sentiment when he said ‘my mother is dead, and everything is worse now’.

Escapist Fantasy

What humanizes Beatrice, however, is that even though she spent a lifetime mostly drowning, there were moments, such as the times she went to a ball, that she would take flight in dance. And what humanized Butterscotch, was that he still forgave her when he remembered how he felt when he first saw her and realized that she was trying her best to do what she could, given her circumstances.

The show addresses the escapist nature of entertainment in this episode, too, when Bojack says that he watched the whole series of Becker because he hoped that his relationship with his mother would get better. That he would perform grand gestures and that would make everything okay. But he needed to be dependably good, without screwing up, and for a person like him, that was very, very hard.

Is Bojack Supposed to Get Better?

At this point, it’s hard to tell. In the third season, Bojack stopped himself while hovering on the brink of suicide after losing Sarah Lynn. In the fourth season, he seemed to accept the vagaries of adulthood and parenthood to varying degrees. He isn’t a bad person, per se, in the fifth season. Bojack is happy for his girlfriend and even goes beyond his normal grand gestures. He even steals the D sign from Hollywood in the first season. But he ends up doing shitty things regardless and ultimately hits a giant reset button when his show gets canned.

Bojack’s fifth season is great, but overall, it’s perhaps the third-best season of the show. It’s still hard to top the highs of season three. Season four stands out simply by the virtue of being uplifting and mature. It makes for a different narrative considering the series is mired in ugliness and depression. The fifth season drags most major characters through their paces, forcing them to confront major flaws and daring them to get better. Todd gets an interesting story too, but he doesn’t stand out as much when he doesn’t play off the main cast.

I can’t help but mirror Diane’s exhaustion and relief as she drives off into a tunnel after dropping Bojack off at rehab. Despite everything Bojack did to her and to others, he is still her best friend, and she cares for him. She hopes, as do we, that he gets better. But he probably won’t.

What do I want (to see)?

I sincerely hope that Bojack doesn’t waste away at a retirement home like his mother did, or die of an overdose as Sarah Lynn did. There might not be recourse left when it’s all said and done at the rate he is burning through people in his life.
It still makes for great television, of course. And I will be there, next year, like everyone else, to see Bojack get into another trainwreck when he gets out of rehab.