Art and mind: When creatives struggle with mental health

703,000 people die by suicide every year, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) affirming that suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-old in 2019. [iStockphoto]

When Tanzanian pop princess and music industry sweetheart Nandy, real name Faustina Mfinanga, shared an Instagram photo that portrayed her hanging from a tree by a rope, she struck a nerve with many.

The image did not last long on her page; Instagram quickly pulled it down for “going against community guidelines.”

Nandy defended herself, maintaining fans had been impatient and did not wait to see and understand the message she intended to convey.

But why is the image and any mockery of suicide and mental illness considered problematic?

As an industry created to make people happy, the entertainment scene is sometimes a sad one. 

In January, the Kenyan radio scene had to come to terms with the untimely death of Capital FM’s DJ Lithium. The 34-year-old, real name Alex Nderi died by suicide when he ingested poison while at work, according to his distraught colleagues.

In February, the industry suffered another loss. This time, it was the renowned South African rapper, Riky Rick. Eerily, Rick was also 34.

The Ungazincishi rapper, real name Rikhado Makhado was found dead in his home after he reportedly died by hanging. The rapper battled severe depression for years, and he had been vocal about it.

That same month, the beauty world was faced with yet another tragic death by suicide - that of the former Miss World, Cheslie Kryst. Kryst passed away after jumping to her death from a highrise building in Manhattan.

The 30-year-old model had been privately battling depression, her mother revealed.

The global entertainment scene has lost big names to a struggle with mental health: comedian Robin Williams, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington and Swedish producer and DJ, Avicii.

Kenyan stars have come out to speak about mental health awareness in the past, revealing their own struggles with depression.

Among them are gospel singer Betty Bayo, singer Kenzo Matata, Francis Amisi aka Frasha, Akothee, actress Njeri Gachomba alias Njambi and media personality, Anita Nderu.

“Most, artistes, I will say this without fear of contradiction are depressed. People are not speaking. I will urge artistes’ bodies to take mental health seriously. I am glad I am part of this campaign and at the forefront of ending the stigma associated with mental health,” said Frasha, who narrated how he suffered hypertension and gout due to alcohol abuse.

“Nothing is worse than feeling stuck and lost, empty and depressed. It is an emotion with on and off panic attacks,” said Akothee as she shared her journey.

703,000 people die by suicide every year, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) affirming that suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-old in 2019.

In Kenya, WHO data estimates that 408 people die by suicide yearly. However, the figures could be high due to under-reporting since it has largely been stigmatised, thus hindering the recovery journey of most victims.

According to WHO, the number of suicides reported in Kenya rose by 58 per cent between 2008 and 2017 to 421. The report showed that more men were likely to die by suicide than their female counterparts. Out of the 421 suicide cases in 2017, 330 involved men.

Counselling Psychologist Elmard Reagan tells the Sunday Standard that the glamorous entertainment scene poses several risk factors that may make entertainers susceptible to depression.

“The kind of lifestyle that comes with showbiz makes people want to show off their flashy lives, creating an unhealthy competition that can push people to extremes,” says Reagan.

He adds that those who end up not living their truth are walking on risky ground, eating at their mental health every day.

According to the psychologist, some general symptoms of depression to watch out for include losing sleep or a change in sleep patterns, change in diet including overeating, outbursts of anger, speaking about negative things and a fixation on death.

Reagan warns that even the content one watches on TV or on the internet can raise red flags about the state of their mental health. Constant overly sad, death-related content should raise questions.

As for caring for our mental health, the psychologist urges us to “always be in tune with our own bodies.”

“Do routine mental health check-ups, just as you would physical ones. Have a certain sense of awareness - learn and be in touch with your body. Do you meditate/read and educate yourself on mental health issues?” poses Reagan.

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