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New research from wellbeing charity Inspire and Ulster University has found people working in the creative industries in NI are almost three times more likely to suffer from mental ill health than the general population.

The report found:

  • The likelihood of a mental health problem in the sector is three times that of the general population. The most common diagnosed disorders were anxiety (36%) and depression (32%)
  • High proportions (60%) reported having had suicidal thoughts, 37% had made a plan for suicide and 16% had made a suicide attempt in their lifetime
  • Whilst most people said they felt they could admit that they had a mental health, alcohol, or drug   problem (63%), those who were concerned about disclosure cited workplace factors, personal factors, service provision and stigma as reasons for not revealing that they had a problem.
  • The vast majority, 88.5% said they would talk to their friend if they were worried about their friend’s mental health.

Specific characteristics of the creative sector work environment were reported as contributing to the likelihood of developing mental health problems. Examples included pressure to reach high standards (both externally and internally), irregular work (including contracts, financial security, irregular hours, and working outside the sector), the perceived lack of value placed on their work and the inadequate financial rewards for the work.

Commenting on the motivation behind the research Peter McBride, CEO of Inspire said:

"There might be a popular image of the struggling artist but that becomes a much less romantic notion when it crosses a line into making people mentally unwell. Attracting skilled, creative people is a key element of Northern Ireland’s economic strategy and work artists and creatives produce is an important pillar of our tourism offer.  At Inspire we specialise in workplace wellbeing and so we were interested in learning more about what it’s like to work in the creative industries in NI and identify and possible areas of concern that may need attention and intervention.”

This study brings together two key research priorities for Ulster University, mental health and the creative industries. Last year the university launched its £5m Institute of Mental Health Sciences which takes a multi-disciplinary approach to mental health research. Also launched last year, Ulster University’s Creative Industries Institute brings together advanced research and teaching expertise in creative disciplines to collaborate with industry, government and communities, focusing on skills acquisition, job creation, policy development and future-led research.

Commenting on the report’s findings Professor Siobhan O’Neill from Ulster University said:

“The results are concerning and unfortunately they corroborate evidence from our broader mental health research programmes at Ulster University, which show the high levels of mental ill health, and suicidality in the NI population, and particular subgroups who may be more vulnerable. We therefore look forward to working with policy makers here to ensure that our evidence can be used to inform strategies and plan services, to help our population flourish.”

Dr Gillian Shorter, Lecturer in Psychology, Ulster University conducted the study. She said:

“Those who work in the creative sector make an important, varied contribution to our society; these findings show we need to pay more attention to their health and wellbeing. If we value the creative industries, and enjoy music, film and TV, art, writing, and other important creative outputs, we need to act and help support those who produce it.”